Mamata denies charge that her government is blocking migrants’ return

Published : June 03, 2020 21:25 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has denied allegations levelled at her by the opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, that she is not allowing migrant workers from Bengal to return home. “Some people are saying that we are not allowing you [migrant workers] to enter. If we did not allow migrants to return then how come only by train 2.4 lakh people have returned so far. Another 1.5 lakh will return within June 10; and around 6.5 lakh have returned by road. If we are not allowing migrants to return, then how come 10.5 lakh will have entered Bengal by June 10?” said Mamata on June 3.

According to her already around 8.5 lakh migrants have returned. However, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, had earlier said that more than 30 lakh migrant workers from Bengal have been stranded in different parts of the country since the nationwide lockdown was declared.

Addressing a press conference at Nabanna, the State secretariat, Mamata said that she was being “misinterpreted” and there is an attempt on to “provoke” the migrants. “What we had told the Centre was if you had arranged for the return of the migrant workers before declaring the lockdown, then they would not have had to suffer so much for the last three months. Our second point was that those migrant workers who have been languishing [in different States] were not given proper food, treatment and no help was extended to them. Our third point was that train fares were taken from the migrant workers. Only the West Bengal government paid for the train fares [for those returning to Bengal],” said Mamata.

She pointed out that her government had first started the scheme ‘Sneher Parash’ (touch of affection) through which 4.57 lakh stranded migrant workers received Rs.1,000 each. The State government was also spending Rs.25 crore by way of train fares for migrants. According to Mamata, Rs.12 crore has already been paid. Another Rs.15 crore was spent by way of arranging buses from different States to bring back migrants and providing transport within the State for the migrants to their respective districts and towns. She said that the total expenditure at the institutional quarantine centres where the migrants had been put up amounted to around Rs.3 crore a day. The State government had also extended Rs.16 crore to 1,62,808 workers in the unorganised sector in the lockdown period, she said.

Mamata also appealed to the Centre to extend financial aid to migrant workers. In a social media message on June 3, she said, “People have been facing economic hardship of unimaginable proportions bcz of the ongoing pandemic. I appeal to Central Govt to transfer Rs 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.”

For several weeks Mamata has been at the receiving end of the Centre’s attack over her apparent reluctance to allow migrants to return to Bengal. Both Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal have accused the West Bengal government of dragging its feet over accepting Shramik Special trains to bring back migrants. Mamata had attributed the spike in the number of COVID-positive cases in the State to the “unplanned” manner in which the migrants were being sent back. She even dubbed the Shramik Specials as ‘Corona Expresses’.

As of June 3, the total number of COVID-positive cases in the State stands at 6,508, including 3,743 active cases. The total number of COVID-positive patients who have died stands at 355, including 72 deaths due to comorbidities (as reported on April 30). The highest single-day spike in COVID-confirmed cases was 396 on June 2. The total number of samples tested so far is 2,32,225, with the testing rate per million standing at 2,580.