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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not attend the videoconference meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with state chief ministers on Thursday. If sources in the state government are to be believed, it was because the centre has not cleared West Bengal’s dues and because Banerjee believes that the Prime Minister should have acted on the Covid-19 pandemic sooner.

In March, two letters from Banerjee to the central government were publicized. One in which she had requested Modi to stop all incoming international flights to Kolkata, just before he announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown, and another earlier this week in which she sought Rs 25,000 crore as financial assistance in tackling the pandemic, and clearing of dues worth Rs 36,000 crore.

But beyond these reports, what is being acknowledged in the state that Banerjee had already ordered shut down Kolkata and parts of West Bengal on March 22, effective March 23, before the nationwide shutdown, and migrant workers from the state were not forced into the kind of mass migration which workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had to go through, as some heart-breaking visuals from New Delhi showed last week.

Around two and a half weeks ago, when Bengal had just three confirmed Covid-19 cases, Banerjee held a three hour-long meeting. “The meeting was not only with the health department, but also with the private hospitals and doctors. The research that was happening across the world was brought to her attention, as well as the escalating situation in Italy and other parts of Europe,” a top state government minister told Business Standard, on background.

“So therefore she had full knowledge from the doctors, hospitals, health department’s own ground level assessment, as well as the research and projections that were being made worldwide. It was then decided to lockdown parts of the state,” the minister said.

Officials say that this early decision to lockdown saved a degree of trouble for some migrants. West Bengal has a huge pool of workers who have migrated to states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Maharashtra for work.  When the state lockdown was announced, migrant workers’ families told them to head back home. And a number of them managed to, while trains were still running.

However, it should be noted that Banerjee had also called for ceasing passenger train operations even as migrant workers were returning home.

A large number of such migrant workers are still stuck in other states. According to Rajiva Sinha, chief secretary of West Bengal, close to 2,82,000 workers from West Bengal are stuck in other states. The state government is in touch with the states where they are stuck through nodal officers to ensure their wellbeing. Meanwhile, the state is also taking care of nearly 40,000 people who are stuck in West Bengal from other states, he said.

“At this point of time, West Bengal is doing better than other states in tackling the crisis. We have a CM who herself has hit the streets to do what is to be down, at the same time ensuring proper lockdown. She is also trying day and night to set up the requisite infrastructure,” says Arindam Biswas, consultant, department of general medicine in a private hospital.

However, Biswas adds that there is need for more testing and quarantine centres and the next two weeks could be quite crucial for the state as the health of the migrant workers who came back to West Bengal needs to be monitored. As of Wednesday, the state has recorded 43 Covid-19 cases with three deaths.

Banerjee did some other things before the central government. She announced a scheme called” Prochesta” under which each daily wage worker would get an assistance of Rs 1000 per month from the government, before the centre’s handout schemes. Before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 50 lakh insurance cover for frontline health care workers, the state government had already announced insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh for people working in the health-care sector.

This week West Bengal announced also setting up up a nodal coronavirus hospital in each of the State’s 22 districts. She also increased the insurance cover to Rs 10 lakh, and it will be extended to those who have been aiding the government in the fight against COVID-19, including health-care professionals, sanitation workers and police personnel

Everyday Banerjee can be seen on social media taking rounds of hospitals, mandis and police establishments to take a stock of the situation, educating people on social distancing. Experts say, West Bengal’s early measures to control Coronavirus, might help the state to keep the numbers of affected lower than other that in other states.

Politicians are already talking about Bengal Model in tackling the present crisis. According to Santanu Sen, a doctor and a Rajya Sabha Member from TMC, “Bengal is emerging as a role model in tackling this crisis. No other CM has gone on streets at this time. Also at each district, the CM has identified hospitals for Corona. At the sametime she is ensuring no one is deprived of food,” says Sen.

Whether Bengal emerges as a role model or not in tackling Corona crisis is yet to be seen, but surely it is slightly ahead of the curve in containing it.

Courtesy – Business Standard

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