The Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Tuesday dubbed as "adventure tourism" the visit of Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (ICMTs) to West Bengal to monitor some districts over coronavirus cases and questioned why teams were not sent to states with much higher number of cases and hotspots.
Addressing reporters through a Zoom conference, TMC MPs Derek O'Brien and Sudip Bandyopadhyay said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had been informed about the team's visit three hours after its arrival, which was unacceptable.
"The ICMT team is on an adventure tourism. The CM was told about the team's visit three hours after the team landed," said O' Brien.
However, the leader of one of the central teams claimed the state government is not extending adequate cooperation. Apurva Chandra claimed his team members were told they "will not be going out" on Tuesday.
O'Brien questioned why central teams did not visit states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh that have higher number of coronavirus cases and many more hotspots. Why central teams are being sent to West Bengal which does not appear in the list of the top 10 states in terms of infection, he asked.
"The Centre has to clarify. Why the chief minister was informed after the team had arrived? In a federal structure, you have to first inform the state government. The motive behind sending such teams is not yet clear. It needs to be clarified first," he said.
The Union Home Ministry on Monday had said the COVID-19 situation was "especially serious" in Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata and a few other places in West Bengal, and had formed six IMCTs for on-the-spot assessment and for issuing necessary directions to the four states -- Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
While one central team arrived in Kolkata, another reached Jalpaiguri district on Monday.
Bandyopadhyay, the leader of the Trinamool Congress in Lok Sabha, hoped good sense would prevail and the Centre would henceforth consult the respective state before taking such a decision.
"We have kept politics behind and want a joint fight against the pandemic. Do not take our graciousness for granted, we too can talk in the political language. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah should also leave politics behind and should not take Bengal's pledge for a united fight in tackling the pandemic for granted," O'Brien said. "What the central government has done by sending central teams is nothing but an insult to the people of the state."
Responding to a question on "low rate of testing" in the state, Bandyopadhyay said that 425 tests are conducted everyday in West Bengal and from Tuesday the number would be increased to 600. He claimed Bengal initially had a dearth of testing kits sent by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Despite the state abiding by all the norms set by ICMR and the central government and doing its best in curbing the disease, West Bengal has been targeted by the Centre and the BJP, the Lok Sabha member said.
"We would urge the Centre not to dilute the joint fight against COVID-19. The state government has followed all the rules and norms set by ICMR and the Union government. But the Union government without informing the state government had sent teams to the state government. It is not acceptable. Such steps are not only against the basic tenants of federalism but also tantamount to diluting the joint fight against the COVID crisis," Bandyopadhyay told reporters.
Taking umbrage at the Centre for sending teams to assess the "serious" COVID-19 situation in the state, Banerjee on Monday wrote a letter to Modi underscoring the "unilateral" and "undesirable" action, keeping her government in the dark.
Both the parliamentary leaders said that it was not a question of "state vs state" and appealed to the Centre to cooperate with the states. They said once proper protocols are followed, then the state would be happy to coordinate with the government.