File image: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government and Centre sparred over ramping up COVID-19 testing as the Capital is witnessing another spike in daily infections.
The war of words began after Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendra Jain wrote a letter on August 27 to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, alleging “pressure” on officials of his department by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to not increase the frequency of COVID-19 tests in the Capital.
“Some officials (of Delhi government) have told us that the Home Ministry is putting pressure on them to not increase testing in Delhi. I wonder why is this illegal and anti-constitutional pressure being put on Delhi government officials. Delhi government is increasing the number of tests and Centre should not interfere,” Jain said in the letter in Hindi.
The letter came a day after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that his government would double the testing numbers from 20,000 each day to 40,000 a day given the spike in the number of infections reported. On August 27, Delhi reported 1,840 fresh COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day spike in the capital since July 10. As many as 21,061 tests were conducted on August 27. A total of 1,67,604 people have been infected so far of which 1,50,027 have recovered.
The letter stated, considering the rise in infections in the last few days, senior officials of Delhi government had decided on August 26 to ramp up testing in the Capital as part of a strategy to fight the pandemic.
“Delhi model has been successful in fighting the disease, so why are the officials being intimidated to not conduct more tests?” the letter said.
Several Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders joined the chorus criticising Centre for “interfering” in Delhi government’s work.
“This is totally unfair to stop Delhi government from working,” AAP leader Raghav Chadha said in a press conference.
Union Home Ministry responded on Twitter and rubbished the charges as “false and baseless”
“The allegation raised in the letter of the Health Minister of Delhi Govt dated August 27, 2020, which is addressed to Union Home Secretary, to the effect that MHA is putting pressure on Delhi Govt officers not to increase testing in Delhi is false and baseless,” a Ministry spokesperson said in a tweet.
The Ministry said it was after the intervention of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah that the daily tests in Delhi, averaging around 4,000 till mid-June, increased to around 18,000-20,000 per day in a calibrated manner.
“The marked improvement in the COVID-19 situation in Delhi has been possible due to this enhanced testing and other containment measures,” the spokesperson said.
Jain responded hoping that officers will comply with this message from MHA. “I am happy that after my letter the MHA has clarified. I am hopeful that testing will be doubled soon,” Jain told a news agency on August 28.
Many BJP leaders criticised Jain for the charges seeking an apology.
“Satyendar Jain, please name the officials who told you that Home Ministry was putting pressure on them. Otherwise apologise,” BJP National Secretary, RP Singh said.