Outrage over Bengal’s exclusion from Central scheme for migrants

Published : June 22, 2020 22:49 IST

In Kolkata, migrants wait outside Howrah station to board buses to their native places during the lockdown earlier this month. Photo: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI

The Centre’s decision to leave West Bengal out of the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan has come under severe criticism both from the ruling Trinamool Congress and from the non-BJP opposition parties. The Central scheme, designed to provide income opportunities to migrants who have returned during the lockdown, has identified 116 districts in six States, including Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Districts with over 25,000 migrants who have returned were considered for selection. In West Bengal, which has one of the highest number of migrant workers in the country, already around 11 lakh have returned; hence the surprise in political circles at the State being overlooked for the project.

While the Trinamool Congress is seeing it as a blatant act of discrimination based on a decision that appears to be entirely political, the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that is the State government is at fault since it did not provide the Centre with the required district-wise list of migrants who have returned. “If the Centre has chosen those districts with over 25,000 migrants, I can name districts in the State that meet the criteria… It is possible that the Centre took a political decision,” said State Panchayat & Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee.

Trinamool Lok Sabha MP and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee posted on social media: “Shri @narendramodi Ji, why have you blatantly ignored the concerns of 11 Lakh migrant workers from #Bengal who’ve recently returned to their homes. Why has WB been left out of the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan? Why this apathy towards the people of Bengal?”

Even Trinamool’s two most bitter political enemies – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress – came down heavily on the Centre over the development. “We strongly protest against the Centre’s decision of leaving out West Bengal from the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana…. Does the central government not know how many people have returned to which districts? Do they not have any data? …It is very evident that in the districts of Cooch Behar, Malda, Murshidabad, North and South 24 Parganas, there are way more than 25,000 returnee migrants. The government at the Centre does not want to know. And why can the State government also not provide details of how many migrants have returned?,” said leader of the Left Front Legislature Party, the CPI(M)’s Sujan Chakraborty. According to him this makes it clear that the State government did not conduct COVID tests for those migrants who have returned after remaining stranded in different parts of the country due to the nationwide lockdown. “If the State government had conducted the tests, as we had been insisting they do, then it would have had the data on all returnee migrants,” said Chakraborty.

On June 21, Congress heavyweight from West Bengal and leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to “reassess” the number of districts that the Centre has identified for the scheme. “…in my State West Bengal lakhs of migrant workers have returned to their native villages due to lockdown and since then they have been rendered jobless, penniless and hopeless. West Bengal is one of the major States in India (from) which originates a large chunk of migrant workers. But I am astonished to note that not a single district in the State of West Bengal has been included in the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan,” Chowdhury wrote.

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