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'No other state fights so much with the Centre'

By Ishita Ayan Dutt
June 11, 2020 13:05 IST
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'Why should the state and Centre fight?'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, centre, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrive at Basirhat in the North 24 Parganas district to inspect the destruction caused by cyclone Amphan. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

"I have suggested to the chief minister several times that this ever-adversarial attitude towards the Centre is immensely hurtful to the welfare of the state and its people," West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tells Ishita Ayan Dutt.

You were part of a joint aerial survey of Cyclone Amphan-affected areas recently. What is the extent of devastation?

The scale of devastation is such that has not been seen in the recent times.

Five districts, including Kolkata, have been severely impacted, while 11 others have been affected in varying degrees.

The evaluation of the actual scale of devastation, however, is being hampered due to inaccessibility and as the assessment is presently empirical.

Having said that, a ray of hope was perceptible, when in a wholesome departure to the earlier anti-Centre approach, the chief minister joined the prime minister and me for an aerial survey of the devastation and havoc unleashed by Amphan.

India is a federation of states.

Both the Centre and states are expected to work in harmony and tandem.

There is no scope of either having a confrontational stance.

Such an approach is antithetical to the spirit of the Constitution and the essence of democracy.

I have suggested to the chief minister several times, particularly amid COVID-19 outbreak, that this ever-adversarial attitude towards the Centre is immensely hurtful to the welfare of the state and its people.

Given the scale of devastation, do you think an interim assistance of Rs 1,000 crore is enough?

Prime Minister Modi made the visit at the earliest possible time after Amphan and announced an assistance of Rs 1,000 crore that had already reached the state.

This would be part of a relief package that would be announced after due evaluation by the state authorities and also the central teams that would be visiting the state soon.

The state is projecting a loss of more than Rs 1 trillion.

This figure may go up or down post evaluation.

Whatever be the evaluated figure, that will be the premise of assistance.

For efficiency and efficacy, benefit must reach the beneficiary directly.

That will be more impactful.

This was also the stand of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the 2009 cyclone.

IMAGE: Civil defence volunteers remove an uprooted tree in Burdwan after cyclone Amphan struck. Photograph: ANI Photo

What do you think of the state's level of preparedness in dealing with this cyclone?

The India Meteorological Department had issued warnings weeks ago.

From that perspective, the preparedness left much to be desired.

The enormity can be assessed that even Kolkata is suffering as never before, even after 10 days.

People of Kolkata, who were already under stress due to COVID-19, were without electricity, water, connectivity and essential services for more than a week.

This kind of frightening scenario could have been avoided had the state government focused more on the level of preparation by distancing itself from political rhetoric.

There was a mayhem during the restoration of services.

Our state is earthquake- and cyclone-prone and in that view, preparedness is expected to be in high gear, not the one that falls apart like nine pins.

The unfortunate stand of the state government to shift blame to another agency finds no takers.

The buck stops with the state government.

Electric poles, that should have been requisitioned before the landfall of Amphan, were ordered later.

Same is with other aspects.

Do you think the army should have been called in earlier?

Undoubtedly, the army should have been called soon after Amphan; the civic authorities were helpless virtually on all fronts.

There was an unseemly spectacle of blame game among the government, Kolkata Municipal Corporation and other agencies, while people were suffering untold woes.

The army, in a short span, acted in an exemplary manner and restored the confidence of the people.

As a matter of fact, it has motivated other agencies to work efficiently.

The situation is coming back to normal in Kolkata, but this can't happen by blaming others.

But the prime minister has appreciated the state government's efforts in dealing with the COVID-19 and the cyclone...

The prime minister did appreciate that Mamataji is doing a good job.

I too appreciate. She is in action mode. But I would not want a general to work like a soldier. No one can say anything about her working pattern.

She is extremely energetic and involved.

But then she has to take some tough questions.

What was the preparation 15 days prior to the cyclone? Why this blame game now?

Is there a possibility of change in the Centre-state relations?

Why should the state and Centre fight? Framers of the Constitution had never visualised so.

The state and the Centre have well-defined areas of working.

A confrontational stance can only harm the people.

There is no other state that is embroiled in so much of fighting with the Centre.

It is time for Mamata to reflect and affirmatively be in harmony with the Constitution.

All over the country, farmers are getting assistance under PM-Kisan Scheme.

But 7 million farmers in West Bengal have got nothing.

They would have otherwise received Rs 7,000 crore in total.

The only reason farmers have not got it is because the data has not been shared by the state.

My heart bleeds for the farmers.

This is a cruel joke on them.

Now, the suffering of the people of West Bengal is hurting me.

I have asked everyone not to repair anything in Raj Bhavan till Kolkata is back to normal.

I appeal to everyone in the country to help Bengal in its hour of need.

Bengal will rise again and then stand for India.

IMAGE: West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar greets West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Photograph: Shyamal Maitra/ANI Photo

But is there a change in equation with you?

In my few meetings with Mamata, I have unequivocally conveyed that while I take counsel from all, I take command only from the Constitution.

I will work shoulder to shoulder with the state government for the welfare of the people.

The Constitution also prescribes duties that the chief minister has to perform as regards the governor.

She has been consistently in disregard of the same.

Such Constitutional distancing is an affront to the Constitution.

In a sense, going by the stance of the CM and bureaucracy, there is a breakdown of the Constitution.

She has so far not indicated to me any issue that the state has with the Centre.

Since the visit of the central teams, testing for Covid in West Bengal has gone up many times. Are you now satisfied with the state government's Covid management and data-sharing?

Much is to be done.

The situation continues to be worrisome.

The health services are not available for ordinary patients even in Kolkata.

Do you have a message for the Opposition parties in Bengal?

Opposition parties in the state have risen to the occasion during COVID-19 and pledged unqualified support to the government.

The chief minister's unfortunate statement that the Opposition parties are 'vultures in wait of dead bodies' has shocked all sane minds.

My persuasion to her to withdraw the statement has not fructified.

I have suggested to the chief minister several times to adopt an even-handed approach in dealing with political parties as this is no time to look at things from a political prism or dictate actions with an eye on the vote bank.

I have disapproved of the approach that on the one hand Opposition parties' movements are curbed, while on the other, the ruling party members have free run.

No one can countenance such quarantining of the political Opposition.

Production: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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