A fresh war of words erupted between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress on Friday over the number of COVID-19 "red" zones in West Bengal, with the ruling dispensation insisting that the state has just four hotspot districts and not 10, as listed by the Union health ministry.
The classification of the districts, announced after a video-conference chaired by the cabinet secretary with the state chief secretaries and health secretaries on April 30, is meant to be followed by all states and Union territories for a week post May 3 for containment operations.
Principal Secretary of the state health department Bibek Kumar, in his letter to the secretary of the Union ministry of health and family welfare on Friday, described the list as "an erroneous assessment" and said Bengal, keeping in view the parameters set by the Centre, has earmarked four "red" zones -- Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore.
Tension between Bengal and the Centre, which had been brewing since the visit of central teams to assess the COVID-19 situation in the state, escalated as the Trinamool Congress accused the Union government of violating the federal setup by branding six more districts as "red" zones without consulting the state, and the BJP charging the ruling dispensation with hiding facts and figures related to the pandemic.
According to the Union health ministry, West Bengal has 10 districts in the "red" zone -- Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong and Malda -- five in the "orange" zone and eight in the "green" zone.
Kumar, however, was quick to reject the list, stating that the assessment was incorrect.
"This is an erroneous assessment. Based on the current parameters of the 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," he said in his letter to the Union health secretary.
Kumar also enclosed a "correct classification of the state's districts and areas in the red, orange and green zones" with the letter.
Bengal currently has eight districts in the "green" zone and 11 in the "orange" zone, he said.
Reacting to the Union health ministry's list, the TMC leadership said it was an attempt on the part of the Centre to malign the state government.
"The sole aim of the BJP-led Union government is to malign Bengal and its efforts to tackle the pandemic. How can the Centre, without taking the state government on board, declare 10 districts as hotspots? This is nothing but a violation of the federal structure," senior TMC leader and Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen said.
Bharatiya Janata Party national secretary Rahul Sinha rejected the allegations and said the lies peddled by the Bengal government on the COVID-19 situation keep getting exposed with each passing day.
"The state government, since the very beginning, has been lying about the COVID-19 situation. This attitude of hiding figures has pushed Bengal to a critical stage. Had the state government been serious about tackling the pandemic from the start, the situation by now would have been much better," he said.
The Union health ministry has listed 130 districts across the country in the "red" zone, 284 in the "orange" zone and 319 in the "green" zone, based on the number of COVID-19 cases, its doubling rate, the extent of testing and surveillance feedback.