People crowd seen at Rashmoni Bazar during the violation of nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, in Kolkata on Saturday.(ANI)
People crowd seen at Rashmoni Bazar during the violation of nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, in Kolkata on Saturday.(ANI)

Bengal Covid-19 data shows huge mismatch as letter stokes fresh controversy

The controversy comes amid the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government battling charges of fudging Covid-19 data, as alleged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress, and the Left parties.
Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
UPDATED ON MAY 02, 2020 11:00 PM IST

West Bengal Health and Family Welfare department’s principal secretary Vivek Kumar’s letter to Union health secretary Preeti Sudan dated April 30 has stoked a fresh row, as it cited the state’s total coronavirus positive (Covid-19) case count at 931, which is at odds with the state government’s tally of 816.

The controversy comes amid the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government battling charges of fudging Covid-19 data, as alleged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress, and the Left parties.

The state government skipped its daily press briefing on Covid-19 updates on Friday and Saturday, as the discrepancy in the data snowballed into a raging political controversy. Friday’s daily bulletin, too, wasn’t published. Even on Saturday, there was no bulletin till 7:45pm.

Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, who largely briefed the media on Covid-19 related issues since mid-March, did not respond to questions about the reason behind the discrepancy in the data.

Other senior state government officials remained tight-lipped as well, as CM Banerjee herself holds the health portfolio. Health secretary Kumar also remained incommunicado.

Kumar had cited in his letter to Sudan regarding the categorisation of districts as red, orange, and green zones and also gave a district-wise break-up list of the number of patients, who had tested Covid-19 positive till April 30.

His list showed that four districts in the state figured in the red zone. Kolkata topped the list with 489 Covid-19 positive cases, followed by Howrah (176), North 24 Parganas (122) and East Midnapore (34).

Altogether, 11 districts were categorised as orange zones and accounted for another 110 Covid-19 positive cases.

Kumar’s data is in sharp contrast to the figures shared by the state government officials with media persons.

According to the state government’s health bulletin dated April 30, there were 572 active Covid-19 positive cases, while 139 had recovered. Another 105 people had died, of which the Bengal government attributed 33 to Covid-19 related deaths and another 72 to co-morbidity.

“It’s evident now that the state government is suppressing facts related to the extent of the spread of Covid-19 in Bengal. Initially, they differentiated between the deaths to show a lesser toll and now they’re suppressing the cases altogether,” said Sujan Chakraborty, the leader of Left parties in Bengal assembly.

Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, too, took to social media, urging the state government to maintain transparency. “Give up ‘Covid-19 data cover-up operation’ @MamataOfficial and share it transparently,” Dhankhar tweeted on Saturday.

The BJP has alleged gross mismanagement. “The government has been trying to suppress the real extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in the state from the outset and has been consistently showing a lesser number of Covid-19 positive cases and fewer deaths to claim the credit. The administration has degenerated into utter chaos and mismanagement, as it has been trying to give political colour to the pandemic,” alleged Subhas Sarkar, a member of the Lok Sabha and a doctor himself.

Bengal is the only state, where an expert panel of doctors is determining the cause of death among Covid-19 patients. The state authorities started sharing the data related to Covid-19 deaths attributed to co-morbidity after a visiting inter-ministerial central team (ICMT) wrote a letter to the Bengal government on April 22.

No senior Trinamool Congress leader spoke on the record, deflecting it to the state administration.

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