Bengal will bear the entire cost of movement of migrant workers by special trains from other states, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said this evening, adding that "no migrant will be charged". The announcement comes amid repeated attacks by the central government and opposition parties on the Trinamool Congress government that has been accused of not offering expected support for the return of migrants stranded due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
In a tweet, the Bengal Chief Minister also shared a letter to the Railway Board. "Saluting the toil faced by our migrant breathen, I am pleased to announce the decision of GoWB to bear the entire cost of movement for our migrant workers by special trains from other states to West Bengal. No migrant will be charged. Letter to Rly Board attached," her tweet read.
Saluting the toil faced by our migrant breathen, I am pleased to announce the decision of GoWB to bear the entire cost of movement for our migrant workers by special trains from other states to West Bengal. No migrant will be charged. Letter to Rly Board attached. pic.twitter.com/6bdxn7fwB8— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 16, 2020
85 per cent of the ticket fare for special "Shramik trains" - launched earlier this month - is borne by the Railways Ministry, the government had clarified, adding that 15 per cent of the cost is borne by the states.
On Thursday, Mamata Banerjee had said that her government has made arrangements for 105 more trains to bring back people stuck in different parts of the country. "Towards our commitment to helping all our people stuck in different parts of the country and who want to return back to Bengal, I am pleased to announce that we have arranged 105 additional special trains. Over the coming days, these special trains will embark from different states for various destinations across Bengal bringing our people back home," Ms Banerjee tweeted on Thursday.
Her tweet came on the same day as Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said that there was a need of "105 trains per day" to bring back stranded migrants to the state. "I feel sad that while there is a need for 105 trains/ day to bring back migrants to West Bengal, the state is accepting only 105 trains over 30 days. I once again hope for the sake of Bengali brothers and sisters in different parts of the country, that West Bengal will accept them back with open arms," Mr Goyal tweeted.
Special trains for migrants is the latest flash-point between the Trinamool Congress government and the centre amid the pandemic.
Last week, Union Home Minister Amit Shah waded into the battle as he wrote to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing her of stopping "Shramik" trains and declared this to be an "injustice" for Bengali migrants stranded across the country.
"... 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.
Trinamool lawmaker Abhishek Banerjee was the first to react with a tweet, saying, "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."
This was followed by a 90-minute press meet by three Trinamool leaders, attacking the Home Minister for playing politics amid the pandemic.
"Bengal has been targeted. All this while it was being targeted by bureaucrats and agencies. But today the cat is out of the bag because today the gentleman, the honourable Home Minister of India, directly attacked Bengal without any facts," Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Md Salim blamed both sides for a debilitating political fight. "The BJP and the Trinamool have turned the pandemic into a pandemonium," he said. "The centre must arrange trains for the migrants to return home. The state must arrange to screen and quarantine them once they are back. None of that is happening. We have offered to give trained volunteers to screen and manage the returnees. But who is listening?"
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.