The centre is not receiving expected support from the Bengal government over return of stranded migrants, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in a letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today.
In his letter the Home Minister accused the Bengal government of not allowing "shramik (worker)" trains run by the Railways to reach the state and declared this to be an "injustice" for Bengali migrants stranded across the country. Mr Shah pointed out that the centre had, so far, helped over two lakh migrants return home amid the coronavirus lockdown and warned the Bengal government that non-cooperation would create hardship for its migrants.
"... we are not getting expected support from West Bengal. The state government is not allowing trains to reach. This is injustice for West Bengal migrant labourers. This will create further hardship for them," Mr Shah wrote.
Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a member of the ruling Trinamool Congress, hit back, accusing Mr Shah of spreading a "bundle of lies".
"A Home Minister failing to discharge his duties during this crisis speaks after weeks of silence, only to mislead people with (a) bundle of lies! Ironically, he is talking about the very people who have been literally left to fate by his own government," Mr Banerjee hit back.
"Mr Amit Shah, prove your fake allegations or apologise," he tweeted.
A HM failing to discharge his duties during this crisis speaks after weeks of silence, only to mislead people with bundle of lies! Ironically he's talking about the very ppl who've been literally left to fate by his own Govt. Mr @AmitShah, prove your fake allegations or apologise https://t.co/HeWYWFafZ5— Abhishek Banerjee (@abhishekaitc) May 9, 2020
The centre and the Bengal government have clashed repeatedly amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country, with an IMCT (inter-ministerial central team), which visited the state to review its handling of the crisis, this week accusing Ms Banerjee's administration of taking an "antagonistic view".
In a separate letter from the Home Ministry, written on Thursday, Bengal was told it had a "very low rate of testing in proportion to the population" and a "very high rate of mortality of 13.2 per cent, by far the highest for any state".
Bengal has reported 1,678 coronavirus cases and 160 deaths so far, while the number of cases across the country is nearing 60,000 with 1,981 dead.
Responding to the charges, Trinamool Congress MP Shantanu Sen said: "This is most unfortunate. A Union secretary has written a letter full of lies..." and accused the centre of "playing the communal card". He also attacked the centre over failing to provide the state with adequate resources.
Bengal is also one of three states - the other two being Uttar Pradesh and Odisha - identified as potential coronavirus hotspots given the number of migrants being ferried home across the country.
In a virtual meeting with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Thursday, the aforementioned states were asked to increase testing and surveillance.
Last week, reportedly fearing a political backlash over the migrants' crisis, the centre permitted travel of stranded people, providing they displayed no COVID-19 symptoms and underwent a mandatory quarantine period on arrival.
The first "special" train to Bengal set off from Rajasthan's Ajmer this week - bound for Durgapur via Asansol - carrying 1,200 migrant workers. Shortly after Ms Banerjee tweeted that a second would bring back a similar number of people stranded in Kerala.
Overall, across the country lakhs of migrants, students and others were left stranded by a nationwide lockdown in March that was enforced with only a few hours' notice.
Stuck without jobs, money, food or shelter, they had no option but to walk hundreds, often thousands, of kilometres, triggering a humanitarian crisis.
With input from PTI