Kolkata: At a time when the world is uniting to face the global pandemic, the Union Government of India and West Bengal State government are engaged in the petty politics of blaming each other.
The allegations and counter allegations began when a group of Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) arrived at Kolkata Airport to inspect Bengal’s implementation of guidelines to combat Covid-19 virus. Three hours later the Union Home Ministry bothered to inform the West Bengal Chief Minister that an IMCT team had reached Bengal for inspection.
Mamata Banerjee immediately wrote to the Centre accusing it of having sent the team without consulting Bengal and that she wouldn’t be cooperating. A couple of hours later she calmed down and fell in line with the orders.
State Vs Centre
The differences between the state and the central governments reflect in the Covid-19 statistics being shared by the two. As per the Centre’s statistics shared via its official link, West Bengal currently has a total of 456 confirmed Covid-19 cases. But in the bulletin shared by the Government of West Bengal there are only 300 confirmed Covid 19 cases.
When eNewsroom contacted Sudeshna Gupta, Special Secretary, Health and Welfare department, GoWB said: “The figures of Covid-19 patients reflected in the bulletin shared by the health department have been prepared by senior doctors based on certain criteria. We stand by it.” When requested to explain the difference between the two, she asked us to call her seniors. eNewsroom tried connecting with Vivek Kumar, Principal Secretary Health and Welfare department, GoWB, but was unable to get a response.
Low testing strategy of both State and Centre
The looming health crisis over Bengal is primarily because of low testing facility in the state. As many have pointed out, Bengal has fewer Covid-19 cases than many other states because fewer tests are being conducted. However, many from the medical fraternity believe that low testing is not just the strategy of the WB government but also of the Centre.
Speaking to eNewsroom Dr Mridul Sarkar, Member, Medical Service Centre, a socio-medical voluntary organization said: “Bengal has lower number of Covid-19 positive cases, because of low testing. But then low testing has been the policy adopted by both the central and state governments, right from the start.”
“The first positive case in India was detected on January 13 in Kerala. But neither the states nor the Centre recognized the impending danger. They had ample time to create a parallel infrastructure to tackle the pandemic. But both chose to be sitting ducks. Now healthcare providers are being exposed to the risk of contracting the virus as we treat our patients,” he added.
According to Dr Sarkar, the Centre and State have very categorically emphasized on what needs to be done in the hospitals during the pandemic, but not much has been executed at the ground level. Explaining the lack of facilities he said: “If you visit any government hospital, you will understand the lack of preparedness. There is no proper screening to weed out undetected Covid-19 patients at Emergency. As a consequence, some undetected patients kept in general wards have infected the caregivers, and thus they themselves are now quarantined. Every hospital needs to have this screening section to detect Covid-19 infected patients from those who do not have the virus, following which positive patients need to be segregated on the basis of infection level into four categories – levels 1, 2, 3 and 4. But all that is not happening. All that we can see is the State and Centre blaming each other, when both should be equally blamed.”
Politics over Covid-19
The State may not have liked the intervention, but those who had doubted the data shared by the WB Govt, welcomed it.
“The West Bengal Government was definitely not sharing the exact number of Covid-19 cases in Bengal. After this hide and seek of data was busted, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases began to increase. If you check the bulletin till April 18, the number of the Covid-19 cases was well below 200. And within a week the number of cases have neared 300, explains it all,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, a Political analyst.
However there are those who feel that Bengal’s cases increased in the last few days because testing also went up during the same period and not because WB government was fudging data.
When asked, what he thinks about IMCT being sent to only to non-BJP-ruled states, excluding Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Chakraborty said: “Well, we can’t deny that politics is being played here. But coming to Bengal, we can’t deny that the number of confirmed cases being revealed by the government was not hundred percent correct.”
Chakraborty maintained that both the Centre and State are trying to use the data for political advantage, given the fact that Bengal be going to the polls next year. “There is politics involved here. Mamata wanted to use this crisis for her political advantage in the Municipal elections. And despite having done a decent job, she made the mistake of not sharing exact details. The Centre got a whiff, from some of her doctors and is now using it to show that Mamata is not doing well in tackling Covid-19 cases,” he said.
However, when eNewsroom tried talking to doctors to ascertain if it was the doctors who alerted the Centre most refrained from making a comment.
Pandemic first, politics later
Members of the medical fraternity believe that the petty politics that the Centre and the State are indulging in should be avoided. “The Centre has the right to inspect, but the way they sent their team could well have been avoided. This is not the time to play petty politics. We need testing kits to weed out Covid-19 positive cases. Visiting hotspots is not the solution. What about areas that are no-risk zones? Once the lockdown is over, these areas will get affected,” said Dr Faruk Hussain Gazi, Medical Officer, Critical Care, Narayana Multispecialty Hospital, Barasat.
“The central government should concentrate on how it can supply proper testing kits and PPE to doctors, while the state should make sure that no one breaks the lockdown rule,” added Gazi.
Adding to that Dr Sarkar said: “A protocol needs to be made and followed while admitting patients to government hospitals. We had even written to the chief minister of Bengal regarding this on April 16”.