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A virus called passing the buck

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday announced the suspension of three senior health officials in north Bengal for allegedly keeping the state government in the dark about the Japanese encephalitis in parts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts.

The outbreak has so far killed 74 people, according to the chief minister, and 118 people, according to officials in the region.

The chief minister said the government came to know of the outbreak only seven days ago. “We would have nipped the problem in the bud, if we were informed on time,” Mamata, who also holds the health portfolio, told a news conference at Nabanna.

She added: “The outbreak happened because senior health department officials posted there did not inform the government. We have decided to suspend the chief medical officer of health of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri and the superintendent of the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital for suppressing the fact.” All three officials are also doctors.

“I was there (in north Bengal) a few days back, but I was not informed. Even Chandrima (Bhattacharya, the minister of state for health) and three other ministers were not informed about this when they were visiting some closed tea gardens a few days ago. The officials will be asked to submit a report why they did not inform us earlier,” the chief minister said.

However, conversations The Telegraph’s reporters had with health department officials in north Bengal and Calcutta threw up another version. The following chain of command that suggests how and when the information flowed is drawn up on the basis of accounts by the officials who did not want to be named for fear of retribution.