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Centre concerns over lockdown dilution in Bengal minority areas

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Kolkata:  The Centre on Saturday shot a strong letter to the West Bengal government for “gradual dilution” of lockdown in the state and named certain minority-dominated areas of Kolkata where social-distancing norms were allegedly violated.

The home ministry expressed its concern that shops of non-essential goods were allowed to open in the state while police gave permission to religious gatherings.

The Centre’s communique addressed to the  Chief Secretary and the DGP of the state coincides with the state government extending the lockdown till April 30 and deciding to seal certain “sensitive areas” which have been found to show a number of coronavirus cases in the last three weeks. The government reportedly have identified 9-10 such areas across the state.

The government also announced that educational institutions in the state would be closed till June 10.  

“Prime minister (Narendra Modi) has decided to extend the lockdown till April 30. So please bear with us,” chief minister Mamata Baerjee told a press conference. Modi earlier in the day had a  video conference with 13 chief ministers, including Banerjee.

 Meanwhile, the MHA in its letter said: “As per further reports received from security agencies, gradual dilution of lockdown has been reported from West Bengal, with an increase in the number of exceptions being provided by the state government.”

When her attention drawn towards the Centre’s communiqué, Banerjee at the press conference said she did not understand why some places were selectively named. “We are now focusing our fight against a disease and not a communal virus.”  

The ministry further claims to have reports that in in Rajabazaar, Narkel Danga, Topsia, Metiaburz, Gardenreach, Ikbalpur and Maniktala in Kolkata  people have been thronging in vegetable, fish and mutton markets in complete violation of social-distancing norms. Most of these are minority dominated areas.

“ Significantly, areas such as Narkel Danga are reportedly witnessing more COVID-19-like cases,”  said the MHA letter signed by deputy secretary Srinivasu K.

“It has been reported that police have been allowing religious congregations. Free ration has been distributed not through the institutional delivery system but by political leaders. This may have resulted in spread of COVID-19 infection,” the letter said.

The ministry said such activities are in violation of the central government’s orders issued from time to time under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and are liable for penal action under the Act.

“It is requested that strict action be taken in the matter and a report in this regard may be furnished to this ministry urgently.”It is further requested to take measures to prevent recurrence of such violations in future,” it said.

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