Just ahead of the cabinet meeting in New Delhi today, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee brought up the controversial PMCare Relief Fund and tweeted that every migrant labourer displaced by the lockdown should be given ₹10,000 from that fund as a "one-time assistance".
The money should also be given, she said, to workers from the unorganised sector, also badly hit by the lockdown.
"People have been facing economic hardship of unimaginable proportions because of the ongoing pandemic. I appeal to Central Govt to transfer ₹10,000 each as one-time assistance to migrant labourers including people in unorganized sector. A portion of PM-CARES could be used for this," Ms Banerjee tweeted in what is being seen as a political challenge ahead of next year's assembly elections in Bengal.
Sources said PMCares had been discussed threadbare at the meeting of Opposition leaders via video conference. The meeting was held on May 21, the day after Cyclone Amphan ravaged Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee had spent several hours with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that day when he came for an aerial survey of the cyclone-hit south Bengal. She had joined the opposition video conference after seeing PM Modi off.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi had criticized the fund and offered to pay for the migrants' train tickets when it was first announced that they would have to buy train tickets to go home on Shramik trains. A First Information Report was filed against her for critical tweets by the Congress.
In response to an RTI query filed in April, the Prime Minister's Office was reported to have said that the PMCares Fund is not a public authority and therefore does not come under the Right To Information Act.
While the Centre announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore package for the poor days after the countrywide lockdown was announced in March and later augmented it while announcing the Atma-Nirbhar Bharat scheme, there has been no direct cash transfer to the migrants.
A section of the PMCares fund was used for the schemes, the government had announced, countering opposition charges that the fund -- started after the Coronavirus outbreak -- was not being used.
Ms Banerjee said the ₹20 lakh crore package was a "big zero". Her finance minister Amit Mitra said instead of 10 per cent of the GDP as promised by the Prime Minister, the Centre was giving 2 per cent.
The opposition has repeatedly attacked the government over the plight of the migrants, sharpening their arguments as the thousands of labourers hit the road to make their way back to the villages, undertaking journeys of thousands of kilometers.
The government, the critics said, had announced the lockdown with just four hours' notice, ending the livelihood of migrants without making any arrangements for their welfare.
The migrant issue has raised dust in Bengal too, as the state BJP accused the Mamata Banerjee government of stopping the arrival of migrant trains.
Following the allegations, the Centre had scrapped the process of taking the approval of states that are to receive the migrants -- a strategy that was opposed by Bengal and Kerala. Both states said that process would interfere with the tests and quarantine that people arriving in the state are subject to, and inevitably cause unbridled spread of the infection.
Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has been at loggerheads with the BJP as the party made inroads in the state and managed to win 18 of its 42 parliamentary seats in last year's Lok Sabha election.
After the recent devastation caused by the Cyclone Amphan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bengal and Union Home Minister Amit Shah promised all help -- moves that were played up by the state BJP.