The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) rushed six teams led by senior bureaucrats to West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra to ensure that the lockdown measures are implemented strictly by their governments. The country is under lockdown till May 3 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic .
An MHA spokesperson said violation of the lockdown measures posed a serious health hazard to the public and risked a spread of COVID-19. The situation was serious in Indore, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune and in Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal, he noted.
An MHA order listed the following violations by the States-incidents of violence on front line healthcare professionals; complete violation of social distancing norms outside banks, PDS shops, market places; and movement of private and commercial vehicles with passengers in urban areas.
The Centre has constituted the six Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCT), led by an additional secretary rank officials, including public health specialists, under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to make on the spot assessment of the situation, issue necessary directions to the State authorities and submit their reports to it.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Twitter that the Centre’s decision was not consistent with the spirit of federalism. “We welcome all constructive support & suggestions, especially from the Central Govt in negating the #Covid19 crisis. However, the basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy IMCTs in select districts across India including few in WB under Disaster Mgmt Act 2005 is unclear.. I urge both Honb’le Prime Minister @NarendraModi Ji & Home Minister @AmitShah Ji to share the criterion used for this. Until then I am afraid, we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism,” she said.
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When asked about her objection, an MHA representative said at the daily press briefing on Monday that, “The purpose is to provide support and assistance to the States in their endeavour to combat COVID-19. The teams have been carefully constituted so that support can be provided from the health, administrative and disaster management aspects. The States will benefit.”
The MHA order said the logistic support, accommodation, local transportation and personal protective equipment (PPE) and access to documents and records should be provided by the State governments.
On April 10, the MHA sought a report from the Bengal government on ‘dilution’ of the lockdown measures. Allowing religious congregations and distribution of free ration by political representatives was leading to the spread of the virus, it said.
Letter to Kerala
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote separately to Kerala for violation of the lockdown measures as it allowed public buses and barber shops to open from April 20. In a letter to Chief Secretary Tom Jose on Sunday, Mr. Bhalla said the State government had circulated some revised guidelines on April 17 and allowed activities that were prohibited under the lockdown measures. It should rectify the guidelines and ensure strict compliance of the lockdown steps.
According to the letter, the additional activities allowed were local workshops, barber shops, restaurants, book stores, MSMEs in municipal limits, bus travel in cities and towns for short distances, two passengers in the back seat of cars, pillions on scooters, which amounted to violation of the MHA order.
Mr. Bhalla wrote another letter to all States and Union Territories (UTs) asking them to strictly comply with the MHA guidelines and ensure their implementation without any dilution.
On April 15, the MHA revised its guidelines issued under the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, to allow the States to decide the additional public activities to be allowed from April 20 in non-hotspot zones. It said the additional facilities should be based on strict compliance with the existing guidelines. The first set of measures was issued on March 24 under the DM Act, invoked for the first time in the country in the wake of the pandemic.
The lockdown, imposed on March 25, ended on April 14 but has been extended till May 3.