Coronavirus | Social distancing has to be 100% during lockdown, says West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar  

Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the lockdown till May 3,‬ West Bengal had already announced the extension of a “lockdown with a humane face”.‬ However, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has raised objections to the “Bengal model of lockdown”. Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview with The Hindu’s Sandeep Phukan.

The Bengal government talked of a lockdown with a ‘humane face’. On the other hand, you have asked the Chief Minister to hold officials accountable for any violation of social distancing and gatherings. Do you favour a more severe lockdown?

In the State [of West Bengal], lockdown enforcement is critically compromised and as per ground reality, it is about 70%. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) communication reflected on the dilution of lockdown, religious gatherings under the very nose of the administration, and compromising social distancing in markets. It reflects the ground reality. I have urged the Chief Minister to hold officials accountable.

Also read: Coronavirus | West Bengal pulled up for lockdown violations

For reasons I cannot figure out and in defiance of Constitutional prescriptions, she [West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee] continues to be in ‘lockdown mode’ with the Governor. This incommunicado stance cannot be countenanced constitutionally. Looking at the sensitivity of the situation and the need for togetherness in fighting against COVID-19, I am yielding to expediency and overlooking this grave lapse.

Lockdown has no severe execution. To be effective, social distancing has to be 100% and anything less than that can have disastrous impact. The cascading impact of the Nizamuddin episode is an eye-opener.

The CM is projecting only her political face all through. I have urged her to disable her political antenna, avoid focus on vote bank politicking and act in concert with the Central government’s take on the corona pandemic. Lockdown enforcement unfortunately has a political angle and religious congregations are tacitly allowed.

The entire public distribution system has been hijacked by ruling party workers. Free ration given by the Central government has been virtually handed over to political wings of the ruling party. Free ration is distributed not by officials but by the TMC (Trinamool Congress) workers to their liking. This is outrageous disregard for the law.

You have questioned West Bengal’s record of testing very few people for COVID-19. Let me quote some figures Trinamool leader Derek O Brien shared on Twitter — ‘More than 65 hospitals have been set up in the districts, over 5,000 safe homes or quarantine centres where 50,000 people are quarantined. But until two or three weeks back, Bengal had received 40 testing kits.’ He said the Indian Council of Medical Research shouldn’t do politics during a pandemic. What would you say to that?

The testing and sharing of information are a cause for serious concern. Very low level of testing is being done. Information as regards COVID-19 deaths is controlled.

In the first week of April, there were no bulletins for three days in a row. The enormity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that at one time, an Expert Committee held the number of deaths as seven but within minutes, the Chief Secretary brought it down to three by addressing another press conference. There is no confidence in the information being fed by the State. The situation is alarming.

Six hospitals in Kolkata and Howrah are shut as doctors and patients tested positive for the coronavirus. Over 300 health warriors in these hospitals are quarantined. According to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), there are adequate number of testing kits. Unfortunately, available kits are not being used and testing in adequate numbers is not taking place.

ICMR NICED is best equipped but adequate samples for testing were not being given to them. Only because it is a Central body. This is grave lapse and we cannot play like this with the lives and welfare of the people.

You have made some serious charges against the Mamata Banerjee government here. Were they the basis of the MHA’s communication to the State government?

I am never on charges. I only indicate the ground reality which is available to me on account of my very extensive interaction. The people have a deep sense of worry and concern. They have taken the Home Ministry’s communication as a timely warning. They are relieved by the concern shown by the Centre. As regard my input to the Union Home Ministry, I don’t discuss that in the media.

The Bengal government has said that though they announced several welfare measures like free rations to 80 million people for the next six months, cash assistance of ₹1,000 to the daily wagers, and so on, financial assistance from the Centre is meagre even though State governments are at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. As a Governor, who acts as link between the State and the Centre, would you agree that more funds are needed?

First, can anyone act without any input? There has been none so far. I can say that there is not even a semblance of regard to the Constitution by her [Ms. Banerjee]. This is most undemocratic. My cooperation to the State, be it with regard to legislation or otherwise, has been exemplary. There is no delay at my end.

Also read: West Bengal to ask parents to collect mid-day meal supplies from schools

Centre-bashing is there daily by the Chief Minister. And a result of the confrontation with the Centre is that our 70 lakh farmers have already lost over [₹]5,000 crore in KISAN SAMMAN, health infrastructure is failing to cope because the State missed an opportunity to benefit from Ayushman Bharat. Why stake public welfare because of politics? This is not people-friendly governance.

Your tweets about the State government are combative, too.

I am acting as per my oath under Article 159 of the the Constitution that I will protect the Constitution and serve the people of the State. Her [Ms. Banerjee] being incommunicado is indicative of the failure of the Constitutional mechanism in the State. In this crisis period, I tried reaching out so that we can work in unison, shoulder to shoulder. From my tweets, you will get ample feeling of my desire to secure her cooperation. She is obligated to brief me.

The Governor’s position is a Constitutional post and above politics. But some would say many of your tweets can be may be interpreted as interfering in the State government’s role.

Neither the State nor anyone has pointed out that I have ever crossed a Constitutional ‘Lakshman rekha’. I do not believe in a confrontational stance. Her [Ms. Banerjee’s] actions are incomprehensible and unconstitutional. Can anyone imagine that even during the COVID-19 crisis, the Chief Minister has not briefed the Governor and shared no details? The Chief Secretary saw me on April 8 but there has been no effective follow up thereafter. She is the only Chief Minister in the country who has taken an unacceptable stance with the Governor. All I can say is that there is total disregard of Constitutional proscriptions by her. The State is virtually in a vulnerable bind.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 11:17:44 PM |

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