Centre accuses Bengal of stopping movement of essentials to and from Bangladesh

Published : May 06, 2020 21:57 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha. Photo: PTI

The Union Home Ministry has accused the Trinamool Congress government of stopping the movement of essential goods through the Bengal-Bangladesh border. This, it says, is an act that amounts to “violation of the orders issued by the Ministry Home of Home Affairs under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, as well as Articles 253, 256 and 257 of the Constitution of India.”

In a letter dated May 5 to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote: “[I]t has been reported that goods traffic through border crossings between India and Bangladesh, falling in the State of West Bengal, has still not resumed. As a result, a large number of trucks carrying essential supplies bound for Bangladesh, are stranded at different border crossing points. A number of drivers of such vehicles, while returning from Bangladesh, have also not been allowed to cross the border, and are stranded in Bangladesh.”

According to the letter, on April 24 the Centre had directed the State to allow cross border transportation of essential goods through land borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and send a compliance report to the Home Ministry. “In this regard, I am constrained to say that we have not received the compliance report from the State Government of West Bengal,” Bhalla wrote.

The Petrapole checkpost on the Bengal-Bangladesh border, India’s biggest land ports, resumed operations on April 30 only to close again on May 2 after protests by the local people allegedly led by the Trinamool leadership of the region and trade unions affiliated to the ruling party. Their main objection was that goods movement might lead to further spread of COVID-19. As of May 6, 144 COVID-positive people have died, of which, according to the State government, 72 died of co-morbidities. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the State on May 6 stood at 1,456, including 112 new cases confirmed on that date.

The Home Secretary’s letter pointed out that in the new guidelines on lockdown measures “it has been clearly spelt out that no State/UT shall stop movement of cargo for cross-border land trade under treaties with neighbouring countries”. “The Unilateral action on the part of the Government of West Bengal to stop the cross land border movement of essential goods would have larger implications for the Indian government with regards to its legally binding international commitments,” the letter stated.