Kolkata: The Centre on Wednesday slammed the West Bengal government for not allowing movement of essential goods through the Indo-Bangladesh border, saying such acts were in violation of the Constitution and will have international implications.
The matter was raised by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla with Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha through an official letter on Tuesday asking him to do the needful so the matter can be resolved at the earliest.
Bhalla also reminded the state government that failing to take action will be considered in violation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, as well as Articles 253, 256, and 257 of the Constitution.
In his letter, Bhalla said directions were given on April 24 to allow cross land border of essential goods through all Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Bangladesh borders and send a compliance report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
"In this regard, I am constrained to say that we have not received the compliance report from the state government of West Bengal," he said.
The Union home secretary said it has been reported that goods traffic through border crossings between India and Bangladesh, falling in West Bengal, has still not resumed.
As a result, he said, a large number of trucks carrying essential supplies, to Bangladesh, are stranded at different border crossing points.
A number of drivers of such vehicles, while returning from Bangladesh, have also not been allowed to cross the border into India, and are stranded in the neighbouring country.
Bhalla pointed out that in the new guidelines on lockdown measures, it has been clearly spelt out that no state or union territory shall stop the movement of cargo for cross-border land trade under treaties with neighbouring countries.
"The unilateral action on the part of the West Bengal government to stop the cross land border movement of essential goods would have larger implications for the Indian government with regard to its legally binding international commitments.
"This act of the state government of West Bengal amounts to violation of the orders issued by the MHA under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 as well as articles 253, 256 and 257 of the Constitution of India," it said.
Bhalla again directed the West Bengal government to allow cross land border transportation through all Indo-Bangladesh borders without any further delay and send the compliance report on opening of cross land borders by Wednesday itself.
The union home secretary's fresh letter was one of the series of communications and verbal duel between the Centre, West Bengal government and its ruling Trinamool Congress over implementation of various central directives related to the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, after the central government dispatched two Inter Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) to West Bengal to assess the COVID-19 situation and the lockdown implementation, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee criticised the move and accused the Centre of sending faulty testing kits to the state.
Subsequently, leader of one of the teams, Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, alleged that the West Bengal government was not providing cooperation to the team and sought detailed presentation on the coronavirus situation in the state.
The union home secretary had also alleged that the West Bengal government was not cooperating with the central teams visiting the state to assess the ground situation and are specifically restraining them from interacting with healthcare workers and touring the affected areas.
The central government had also blamed the West Bengal government for not implementing the lockdown properly.
Soon, the Union Home Ministry also directed the West Bengal government not to obstruct working of the two central teams visiting the state.
Even though the West Bengal chief secretary assured that it will abide by all the central government orders, the state's ruling TMC dubbed the visits of the IMCTs as "adventure tourism" and questioned why teams were not sent to other states with much higher number of cases and hotspots.
TMC leader Derek O'Brien had also criticised the IMCT terming it as "India's Most Callous Team" and he claimed that the team's real aim is to spread the "political virus".
"Their real aim is to spread the political virus. They are doing it shamelessly, Blatantly. Take your pick, IMCT = India's Most Callous Team IMCT = I Must Cause Trouble (in Bengal)," O'Brien tweeted.
Before wrapping up its two-week trip on Monday, the IMCT, headed by Apurva Chandra, indicted the West Bengal government over COVID-19, saying its 12.8 per cent mortality rate was highest in the country and it reflected the "low testing and weak surveillance" while tackling the pandemic.
The 21 days lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 in a bid to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was extended first till May 3 and again till May 17.
'Will take a call after considering all aspects'
The West Bengal government on Wednesday said it will take a call on the movement of essential goods through the Indo-Bangladesh borders after considering all aspects.
State's Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay said this in reply to the Union Home Ministry letter.
"We will take a call after considering all aspects. There are a lot of things that need to be looked into," he said.
The Centre during the day came down heavily on the West Bengal government for not allowing movement of essential goods through the Indo-Bangladesh border, saying such acts will have international implications.
The MHA in a letter to the chief secretary also said the state government has not implemented repeated directions of the Centre for free movement of cargo and this amounts to violation of the Disaster Management Act.
(With inputs from PTI)