West Bengal has the highest rate of COVID-19 fatalities, low testing and worrying instances of attacks on frontline workers fighting the coronavirus crisis, the Union Home Ministry said on Wednesday in a sharply-worded letter to the Mamata Banerjee-led state government.
"The response to COVID-19 in the state of West Bengal is characterised by a very low rate of testing in proportion to the population, and a very high rate of mortality of 13.2 per cent for the state, by far the highest for any state," the central government said.
"This is a reflection of poor surveillance, detection and testing in the state. There is also a need to increase random testing in crowded clusters," Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said in a two-page letter to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha.
"Lockdown violations have been noted in the cities of Kolkata and Howrah by specific groups in specific localities with media reports of the 'corona warriors' including even the police being attacked," the letter said.
"Instances of problems faced due to ostracism of health care professionals and lack of quarantine facilities is also worrying," it added.
The Home Secretary said instances of overcrowding in markets with poor sanitation, free movement of people in large numbers without masks, bathing of people in rivers, people playing cricket and football, serious lapses in enforcing lockdown measures in containment zones, rickshaws allowed on roads without any restriction are grave violation of lockdown instructions and social distancing norms.
These are all examples of poor supervision and implementation of crowd-control measures by district authorities, he said.
Mr Bhalla wrote the letter following reports submitted by two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs), which were sent to Kolkata and Jalpaiguri districts on April 20 and returned on Monday.
The teams have extensively toured a total of seven districts in the state and have communicated their observations from time to time to the state government, he said.
Responding to the charges, Trinamool Congress MP Shantanu Sen said, "This is most unfortunate A Union secretary has written a letter full of lies. Why are you playing the communal card with reference to specific groups. Which group do you mean? Why don't you specify?"
"How many PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) have you given to Bengal? all you have done is come and sprinkled flowers on the heads of doctors. The letter is an insult to all those fighting against COVID-19 in West Bengal," he added.
West Bengal has registered 1,344 coronavirus cases including 140 deaths and 364 people who have recovered, the Union Health Ministry's latest bulletin said on Wednesday.
The centre and the Mamata Banerjee government have been locked in a bitter face-off over the coronavirus crisis. The state has long attributed most of the fatalities to pre-existing conditions and released a separate count of deaths for COVID-19.
While the centre has accused the Mamata Banerjee government of handling of the crisis poorly and under-reporting the numbers, Bengal has countered with allegations of not sending enough test kits and holding off on funds owed to it.