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Kolkata, April 21, 2020
Amidst heightened tension between the Centre and the West Bengal government, the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) deployed to Kolkata for assessing the situation related to Covid-19 management and the ongoing lockdown went round the city on Tuesday after remaining put at a Border Security Force (BSF) facility since morning.
The team drove through various parts of the city, including Lake Gardens, Jadavpur, Bhowanipore, Ballygunge and Gariahat, after leaving their place of stay at about 5 p.m. - around an hour after a strongly-worded letter from the Centre directed the state to provide all facilities to the IMCT.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar also requested Banerjee to "synergetically cooperate with the Central Team to wean away the miseries of people".
"Cooperation and not confrontation between Centre and State must," Dhankhar tweeted.
The team leader, Apurva Chandra, earlier complained that despite giving assurances that they would be taken around, the state government informed them that "there are some issues, and we will not be going out."
But some time after Chandra made the comment, the state government provided the team with Kolkata Police escort vehicles manned by anti-rowdy section officers of the detective department and a liaison officer early in the evening.
At around the same time, the Union Home Ministry told the media in Delhi that the state government was not cooperating with the IMCT delegations.
"The Home Ministry has received a feedback that the teams which have been deputed to Jalpaiguri and Kolkata in West Bengal, are not getting cooperation from the state government and the local administration.
"They are being stopped from visiting the region, they are not being given the scope to interact with health workers, or assess the ground level situation. This is a violation of the Central government order issued under the National Disaster Management Act," a Home Ministry spokesperson said.
The Home Ministry also wrote to the state Chief Secretary directing the Bengal government to abide by the Centre's order in this regard, and make all necessary arrangements so that the IMCT can carry out its responsibilities effectively.
The Kolkata team, which landed on Monday morning, held two rounds of meetings with state Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha.
The team, which has put up at the BSF Officers' Institute on Gurusaday Dutta Road in south Kolkata's Ballygunge area, went out briefly in the morning but returned to their base after traversing only 500 metres.
Two Kolkata Police officers soon reached the institute and sought to know the team's programme for the day.
The police then set up a post for checking on both ends of Gurusaday Dutta Road, and controlled vehicular movements.
The centre's decision to send the teams has triggered a big row, with the Trinamool Congress government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee questioning the need for such a delegation.
Banerjee shot off a letter to Prime Minister Nareandra Modi on Monday, describing the Centre's decision as "unilateral", and alleging it was sent without prior intimation, causing "breach of established protocol".
She also dubbed the Union government's selection of districts with "serious" Covid-19 situation as a "figment of imagination".
The Home Ministry in a communication on Monday claimed violation of lockdown measures were reported from some districts in the country posing a serious health hazard and risk for spread of Covid-19.
Regarding West Bengal, it said: "The situation is especially serious in Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts".
Adopting a tough stand, the state government had threatened not to allow the IMCT to move around in the state unless it had a clear idea about their needs or why they wanted to go for field visits.
Meanwhile, Sinha on Tuesday said any stand-off between the centre and the states was undesirable, but it wouldn't be proper to blame only the state.
He said he had gone to the BSF facility to speak to the central team.
"Then they said they want to go around some of the areas in Kolkata. We told them that we will give them a local officer who will escort them," he said.
Sinha said the Bengal government's stand is that it would have been good had the centre sent the team after consulting it.
"Their team in Jalpaiguri has been given all progress reports and other information. If their team leader Vineet Joshi wishes to visit some area, we will consider it."
"But one difference between the teams in Kolkata and North Bengal is that the North Bengal team did not meet me. The protocol is if any central team visits the state, they have to speak to the Chief Secretary," he added.