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Timely intervention and realising genuine concern regarding the forthcoming crisis had helped the state to keep the number of affected people low

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IPRI # 55, 21 April 2020

COVID-19 and the Indian States
West Bengal: Proactive Local Leadership, Early Lockdown and Decentralised Action

  Shilajit Sengupta


The overall responses by the state of West Bengal in the wake of COVID -19 Outbreak was quite proactive. In fact, the state is comparatively less affected in terms of the numbers of diagnosed COVID-19 cases than the other worse affected state such as Maharashtra 1354, Delhi 720, Tamil Nadu 843, Uttar Pradesh 410, Kerala 357 as on 10 April updates. On 4 March an airport passenger was kept under isolation but later he was diagnosed negative. On 17 March the first positive case was reported when a male passenger travelling from the UK was reported with a positive case of COVID–19. However by the 14 March through a circular, the state government had already directed all the educational institutes to be shut till 31 March which later got extended as per the directives of central governments. In the meantime all the local trains, domestic and international flights services were completely suspended keeping the special services available such as ambulance and transportation facilities for the travel of health and other emergency service workers. Thus it could not be said that early intervention was taken but as the state went for complete shut down on 14 March before its first positive case was diagnosed certainly indicates that it was not too late. Some of the major initiatives were take quickly as soon as the first positive case was found in Kolkata.           

Since the outbreak, Beleghata ID hospital and Nilratan Sarkar Medical College have been turned into the primary centre for the testing and monitoring of the suspected cases. Along with this 7.9 crore people who would be getting subsidised ration while working from home at least till September while the poor would be receiving it for free. Apart from this, the government had set up a fund of Rs 200 crore to combat the crisis. Besides setting up funds and logistical support the medical colleges and hospitals situated in each district had been turned into the isolation unit for the people suspected with coronavirus. The districts were asked to set up temporary shelters for the migrant labourers as well.   It has also screened more than 1.4 lakh people and reported no positive case so far. The government has also started sending out the hydroxychloroquine to the districts.    

The enablers and detractors for the steady and efficient implementation of the directives is mainly the state administration. However, district administrations have been particularly called upon for implementing the directives coming from the state administrations. Panchayats have also been made involved to spread the awareness regarding maintaining required social distancing and the hygiene in the villages along with strict directives for shutting down or shifting the village market to an open space where the social distancing could be maintained. The health department has played a proactive role in identifying the affected areas where the people with corona cases were identified and conducted thorough sanitization process by spreading disinfecting chemicals. In the towns, District Administration involved police to tighten the lockdown measures and brought all the potential crowded places under strict vigilance.    

In addition to the state, district and village administrations the responses from the people residing in the cities were commendable in the areas where the poor are in dire need of help. Students of Bethun College, Presidency University have started distributing sanitizers and Jadavpur University has provided daily meals to the poor. NGOs, where large slum settlements are situated, have been distributing ready-to-eat food to the labourers who are currently unemployed and recently have lost jobs. The local clubs with the help of some of the generous funds from the people have taken initiative to reach the elderly people with the groceries. In addition to this Professor of Sanskrit college has donated Rs. 10 lakhs from her personal saving in the chief minister’s relief fund while the football clubs like Mohun Bagan and Cricket Association of Bengal have been contributed cash donation of Rs 20 Lakh and space for lodging people with corona positive respectively.   

Vernacular and different platforms in social media are playing an important role in building awareness at the community level. Continuous broadcasting of the awareness related short videos made by the government where the Chief Minister is appealing the people of the state to not to panic and take adequate measures for fighting the crisis like social distancing, wearing masks and not to stockpile food which could result in unprecedented food crisis. Besides this, the celebrities have also been giving bites on the same which are being regularly broadcasted in TV and aired in FM radios. Various Facebook groups have been formed to keep the people informed about the update and corona related information. Apart from this the largest vernacular newspapers namely Ananda Bazar Patrika has kept their daily publication without interruption and make is possible to distribute it to the subscribers.  

Nevertheless, a catastrophic situation at this magnitude can never be managed by a state in isolation. When it comes to the interaction with the centre, keeping the existing political antagonism between West Bengal and Central Government led by Bhartiya Janata Party, the centre agreed to cooperate with the state and its requirements. However, at the political level, Mamata Banerjee did not participate the all-party-meeting stating the fact that the centre did not adhere to the suggestions made by All India Trinamool Congress Party on tackling corona case such as closing parliament for social distancing. The state had also urged the Centre to release funds and eventually received more than Rs 500 crore which was claimed inadequate for the current situation in the state.     

In conclusion, it can be stated that timely intervention and realising genuine concern regarding the forthcoming crisis had helped the state to keep the number of affected people low. Along with this the role of Chief Minister coming down to the street for working shoulder to shoulder with the front line health workers and police gave an immense amount of confidence and reliance to the doctors, nurses, vendors ASHA workers. Celebrities and the ministers have explicitly shown their regular practice of self-quarantine whenever they had returned from abroad or other states.   

Shilajit Sengupta is a PhD Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS


As of 22 April, 2020 India crossed the 20,000 mark in its total number of coronavirus affected cases with 645 deaths. The country heads to complete a month of complete lockdown and in this, while few states have been able to manage the health crisis, most are yet to recuperate. The International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) at NIAS takes a critical look at the response readiness, mitigation abilities, societal perception and role of media in the different federal states in India while combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IPRI Series on “COVID-19 and Indian States” brings out the comparative narration and the larger picture on how India is addressing the pandemic. This initiative is undertaken by the IPRI in collaboration with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS). The KAS-India Office is one of the principal partners of the IPRI and the IPRI network.

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