Despite several charges against the Mamata Banerjee-led government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, statistics show West Bengal does not feature among the top 10 states with the maximum number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
As far as metropolitan cities are concerned, Kolkata, so far, has had the least number of incidents of the virus-related cases.
According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Bengal is in the 12th slot (as of April 21) among the 32 states and union territories in terms of COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
Maharashtra has seen the maximum number of cases at 4,666 with 232 deaths, followed by Delhi (2,081 cases), Gujarat (1,939), Rajasthan (1,576), Tamil Nadu (1,520), Madhya Pradesh (1,484), Uttar Pradesh (1,184), Telangana (873), Andhra Pradesh (722), Karnataka (722), Kerala (408) and West Bengal (392).
However, the figures contradict the Bengal health department’s statistics, which says there are 245 active cases at the moment (April 20) in the state. As many as 73 people have been cured and 12 people have lost their lives to the virus in Bengal, the Centre’s statistics say.
This reveals the government has managed to contain the virus to a certain extent with the help of top bureaucrats, health workers and scientists.
Banerjee was the first among all chief ministers to officially request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop all international and domestic flights. She had also ordered suspension of all local train services before the Indian Railways announced the move.
Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress supremo, had announced a statewide lockdown a day before the PM called for the Janata Curfew on March 23.
She mentioned this in her letter to the PM, dated April 20. “I would like to bring up the fact that West Bengal had proactively announced lockdown before it was announced by the central government and even before the extension to the lockdown on April 14, West Bengal government had already extended the lockdown up to April 30,” Banerjee wrote.
As far as the crisis of migrant workers is concerned, the government has set up 711 camps across the state for their accommodation.
To prevent any labour unrest, an issue witnessed in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Bengal government is trying to make arrangements for adequate food and comfortable stay. Some camps reportedly have televisions as well.
At present, there are two lakh migrant labourers from 16 states staying at the 711 camps in Bengal and so far, not a single case of riot/clash or violation of the Disaster Management Act 2005 has been reported.
The state government also decided to give Rs 1,000, under a scheme named ‘Procheshta’ (effort) as relief to about 3 lakh migrant workers from Bengal stranded in other states due to the lockdown.
Banerjee’s dispensation also announced an insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh to pandemic’s frontline warriors, including accredited journalists. She had initially promised to provide a cover of Rs 5 Lakh, but later doubled the amount.
The state’s announcement on the matter came much before the Centre came up with a Rs 50-lakh insurance cover for frontline healthcare workers.
Also, Banerjee is the only chief minister to have inspected hospitals, markets and quarantine centres to take stock of the situation.
According to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, “The state government’s consistent efforts has led to keeping nine districts in the state COVID-19 free so far (green zones). There are 10 districts that fall under orange zones (few cases). One should not go into speculations on the administration’s role in containing the virus.” A majority of the districts that fall in the orange zone are in north Bengal and Jungalmahal area.
Santanu Sen, a doctor and Rajya Sabha MP from the Trinamool Congress, said a well-planned effort is underway to malign the image of the state government.
“It is a fact that West Bengal did a great job in containing the virus spread. However, efforts are being made to tarnish the government’s reputation,” he said.
Sen said there has been contradictions in the Centre’s views on the state. “Few days ago, Joint Secretary (Union Health Ministry) Luv Agarwal said no case was reported in the last 14 days from Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. But later, the woman who addressed the press conference on behalf of the Union Home Ministry said the situation in Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri is poor. What does this indicate?” Sen said.
Regarding the arrival of central teams in the state on Tuesday for inspection, Sen said the government was kept in the dark about their moves.
“Home Minister Amit Shah informed our chief minister around 1pm on Tuesday. The Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) has reached the state at 10.10am on Monday. What does this mean?” the MP said.
He further accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of playing the communal card during a health crisis in a subtle way. “It is very unfortunate that instead of working together, there are people who are still indulging in political activism,” he added.
He also blamed the BJP-ruled central government for the rapid spread of the virus in the country. Sen said that while the first coronavirus case was reported in January 30, flight operations were stopped only on March 22.
“There was a gap of nearly 52 days and lakhs of people travelled during this period that aggravated the situation. Don’t you think it was mismanagement on behalf of the central government? It was our chief minister who raised the matter first and requested for suspension of flight services,” he added.
Earlier in the day, another TMC MP, Derek O’Brien, hit out at the Centre for indulging in politics during a pandemic. He said nearly 70%-80% of the districts chosen for the Central teams’ visits are from states ruled by Opposition parties.
“Why no district from Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat is part of the list that have high number of cases and many more hotspots?”
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi has also questioned the intentions of the central team in Bengal despite the state having far less number of cases.
However, most opposition leaders in the state have alleged that Banerjee’s government is trying to suppress the number of cases and deaths arising out of coronavirus in Bengal and that adequate tests are not being conducted on suspected patients.
An FIR was recently lodged against BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Subhas Sarkar in Bankura for speaking against the government.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Legislator Sujan Chakraborty said it was a normal practice in the state to hide cases- be it rape, farmer suicide and now, coronavirus.
“COVID-19 cases surfaced much later in Bengal and we had some time to take precautions. I think the government should have gone for more testing. Initially, there was no problem with the, kits but the state government didn’t pay much attention to it. As far as hiding is concerned, it is nothing new. This time, the government has given it a new name and started referring to the deaths as ‘comorbidity cases’,” Chakraborty said.
Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya said both the Centre and state government should keep their egos and politics aside and work for the larger cause of Bengal.
“It is unfortunate that they are resorting to politics at this hour. This is the time to behave like a sensibly. However, I also feel that everybody is working hard as per their capacity to contain the virus. The results could be better if we worked together,” he said.
A doctor working with a private hospital in the city said health workers are working on a war-footing and concerted efforts could help their cause.
When asked the number of cases reported in the state, he said the administration has handled the situation well. “Our CM reached out to the people to send a clear message about the lockdown. Barring a few places, the entire state maintained discipline and followed the guidelines laid down by the government. People have to cooperate in this crisis. However, Bengal certainly is better placed than other states, given the complicated situation,” said Dr Arindam Biswas, a consultant of speciality internal medicine at Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences.