Kolkata: The West Bengal government has come under fire from the opposition over allegations of suppression of official data regarding the Covid-19 infected patients in the state.
The opposition alleges this a ploy to mislead the people into believing that Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee has controlled the infection and death rates in the state as elections are approaching, a charge the Trinmool Congress vehemently denies.
West Bengal goes to polls early next year.
With the BJP targeting the Trinamool Congress government for its “dismal” record in governance, especially on the law and order and public health fronts, Banerjee would want to be seen as effective and efficient in dealing with the pandemic.
Confusion over figures related to Covid-19 infections and deaths
The West Bengal Health and Family Welfare department stopped publishing its daily medical bulletin after 1 April, which used to have all updates related to Covid-19 confirmed cases, deaths, samples testing, quarantine and isolation status of people. This came after the chief minister, on 1 April, questioned the official figures of three deaths attributed to Covid-19.
The chief minister started addressing press conferences every alternative day and in her absence the chief secretary, as directed by the CM, addressed the media.
On 2 April, the task force of specialist doctors, while addressing the media at Nabanna, said, 53 people in Bengal have tested positive for Covid-19 and seven persons have died.
An hour later, the state’s chief secretary, Rajiva Sinha, at Nabanna said the number of active cases of Covid-19 is 34 as others later tested negative and the number of deaths is still at three. “We are yet to establish that other persons died of this infection, they were suffering from other medical conditions like pneumonia, renal failure,” he added. So in an hour, the number of Covid-19 positive cases went down to 34 from 53 and the number of deaths to 3 from 7.
On 3 April, the chief minister said that the active cases in West Bengal for Covid-19 were now 38, while the ministry of health and family welfare website showed the state had 63 confirmed cases.
After the issue was raised with the chief secretary by the representatives of the media in the evening on 4 April, the state government came out with a one page bulletin, published in a new format.
While addressing the media on 4 April, chief secretary Rajiva Sinha said, “We are not giving certain information does not mean we are hiding or holding back information. Everyone does not need to know everything . We are putting out information which people need to know. “
Even as the controversy over the data continues, doctors recount instances over the last two years when they were allegedly asked to maintain dengue as ‘unknown fever’. West Bengal’s figures for dengue cases and deaths for 2018 and 2019 are also missing from the Directorate of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) website.
‘What does she want to hide? What is she so insecure of?’
Communist Party of India( Marxist) leader Surjya Kanta Mishra, who was health minister in the Left Front government, alleges the chief minister is misleading the people.
“According to WHO, any person who tests positive for Covid-19, is an infected person. And if an infected person, even with comorbidity conditions dies, then it is considered as a Covid death. There is no ambiguity here. A person can have various medical conditions. With comorbidity conditions, a person becomes susceptible to Covid-19 infection. But if a person having such conditions dies, then the cause of death is Covid-19, not his condition. The chief minister is misleading people and lying. It is rubbish,” Mishra told ThePrint.
Mishra, who is also a doctor, said, “ Mamata Banerjee is discouraging reporting of cases and inviting serious trouble for the state. Now we will see under-reporting, which is dangerous. She also stopped publishing medical bulletin.”
“What does she want to hide? Nobody will speak, other than she. What is she so insecure of? This is a medical emergency and the state has evoked Epidemic Diseases act. Now her government is violating the basic premises of the act too. How can a government stop publishing medical bulletin in the time of an outbreak?,” added Mishra, CPM’s state secretary and a Polit Bureau member.
BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh alleged that many cases had already been suppressed and people would not be given a chance to be alert.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ghosh said Mamata wants to show that she controlled the infection and death rates. “We have seen how her government suppressed Dengue data and death figures. All the data are manipulated. We will raise this issue with our central leadership and submit a report. She wants to score as the elections are approaching. She wants to show that she controlled the infection and death rates. But this is not the time for politics. There are several Opposition states in the country and no state barring Bengal is fudging data like this. Kerala and Maharashtra, both ruled by Opposition, did not suppress a single number. In the case of Bengal, it is deliberate suppression of data,” he said.
“The suppression of data or stopping the flow of information has been done to prove that she is the best chief minister, and it would help her gain electorally. But people are not fools. They see everything,” said Ghosh.
Veteran Trinamool MP Sougata Roy, however, rubbishes the Opposition’s charges.
“These are sensitive rimes. Government is focusing on treatment, building infrastructure and driving panic out of people. Top doctors have been inducted in the task force. The government does not gain anything by hiding figures. So, the Opposition should not politicise this. Whatever the government is doing, it is the best thing given the circumstances,” Roy said.
Race to become the most efficient
Any authoritarian regime tries to manipulate government data, said political analyst Biswanath Chakrabarti.
“Six decades back, when both China and India witnessed its worst famine, millions starved to death in China. But India, despite being a poorer nation survived it. China suffered because the government suppressed information and no help reached them. India, being a democracy, did not do that. There was media and there were people. India got support from all corners. I am particularly bringing this here to compare the situation in terms of suppressing information. We are seeing it as the years we saw during a Dengue outbreak in the state. But Coronavirus is deadlier,” says Chakrabarti to ThePrint.
“Why did the government ignore the statements given by the CM’s task force that has specialist doctors? How does the government issue clarification over the doctors’ statements?” He questioned, referring to the series of flip-flops over announcements related to the figures at Nabanna yesterday.