There are only four coronavirus "Red Zones" in West Bengal, the state government said on Friday, protesting the centre's assessment that included 10 of the state's 23 districts among areas worst hit by the COVID-19.
"Based on the current parameters of Government of India for categorisation of areas for COVID-19, the districts in the Red Zone are only four: Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and Purba Medinipur," a letter sent by Bengal's Principal Health Secretary to the centre said.
The Union Health Ministry on Friday had released a list of 130 "Red Zones" across India - 40 fewer than two weeks ago. However, the number of "Green Zones", or districts with no new COVID-19 case, has also decreased from 356 to 319, suggesting the virus is spreading, albeit with reduced intensity, to previously unaffected areas despite a nationwide lockdown. The number of "Orange Zones" have increased - from 207 to 284.
Besides the ones designated by Bengal, the Union Health Ministry also listed South 24 Paraganas, Paschim Medinipur, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong and Maldah as Red Zones.
"The districts were earlier designated as hotspots / red-zones, orange zones and green zones primarily based on the cumulative cases reported and the doubling rate. Since recovery rates have gone up, the districts are now being designated across various zones duly broad-basing the criteria. This classification is multi-factorial and takes into consideration incidence of cases, doubling rate, extent of testing and surveillance feedback to classify the districts. A district will be considered under Green Zone, if there are no confirmed cases so far or there is no reported case since last 21 days in the district," the Health Ministry said on Friday.
Calling the new assessment "erroneous", the West Bengal Health Department requested the ministry to issue a correction.
Responding to a pushback from states, the Union Health Secretary in the ministry's statement had said, "Some states have raised issues on inclusion of certain districts in red-zone, I would like to highlight that this is a dynamic list. The list will be revised on a weekly basis or earlier and communicated to states."
The centre also added that while states may designate additional red or orange zones as appropriate, they cannot relax any classification that has been made by the Union Health Ministry.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress administration in West Bengal has been locked in a feud with the centre over the coronavirus crisis. While the Bengal government has accused the centre of not sending enough test kits or releasing funds that are owed to it, the centre has raised questions about low rate of testing and alleged attempts to under-report the spread of the deadly infection in the state.
"The number of people positive in Bengal does not match the centre's, nor the death toll. Now it seems there is a difference even in the number of districts that are red zones. Why is this? It seems the state suppressing figures? If the state puts out the correct figures, then people will be alert. But to keep people in the dark and cut down red zones and increase green zones, the state is inviting a disaster. We say enough hide and seek. The state of the corona here is a pandemic. Stop this hide and seek. Cooperate with the centre," Rahul Sinha, BJP National Secretary said.
"It is most unfortunate that the centre and state are fighting all the time. No one knows what to believe anymore. State says four red zones. Centre says 10. Problem is no one believes the state's figures anymore. And the centre is also failing to do its job. It is just issuing directives and doing nothing to implement them," Sujan Chakraborty, CPM MLAt said.