We got request for data on migrants on June 23 and sent details the same day: Bengal FM Amit Mitra

Published : June 29, 2020 22:20 IST

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra. Photo: ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

A fresh war of words has erupted between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre and the Trinamool Congress government of West Bengal over the State being left out of the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhijan of the Centre for migrant workers who had returned home during the lockdown. It began with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s alleging, while addressing a virtual rally on June 28, that West Bengal had been left out of the scheme because the State government had not provided the Centre with any data. The Prime Minister launched the scheme on June 20.

Nirmala Sitharaman said, "The Prime Minister, after several meetings, and after collecting data (on returnee migrants) from the States, launched a scheme to provide employment to migrant workers in their very homes in 116 districts, but not a single migrant worker from West Bengal is going to benefit from the project because the State government did not share the necessary data with the Centre…. They are sitting with a stubborn attitude. They will not provide any data no matter what the Central government is offering."

With an eye to the 2021 Assembly election in the State, Sitharaman launched a blistering attack on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress on topics ranging from the Trinamool’s fierce opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to its alleged failure in handling the COVID-19 crisis in the State. "Looking at the good work that the Centre is doing and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the people of Bengal have realised that if Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) is to be built, then every single aspect of the misrule of the Trinamool Congress should be remembered when casting the vote," she said.

Reacting to Nirmala Sitharaman’s allegation on the scheme for migrants, State Finance minister Amit Mitra claimed that the Union Finance minister was not telling the truth and that the State had provided the Centre with all the necessary details. "On June 23, we received a letter from the Centre to the Department of Panchayats & Rural Development asking us to provide a district-wise data of the migrant workers who have returned. By 7 p.m. we sent our response giving district-wise details. On June 25, another letter came [from the Centre], this time asking for block level data; the same day the data was sent. I challenge them to refute this. The Finance minister of India could say such a big lie! Did she not know? Did nobody tell her?" said Mitra.

This was the first time since the controversy erupted more than a week ago that the State government has confirmed that it had sent the data on returnee migrants to the Centre. Right from the start, the State unit of the BJP had maintained that the State government had failed to provide the necessary information to the Centre. Even Sujan Chakraborty, veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and leader of the Left Legislature party, while condemning the Centre for leaving out Bengal, had said "…and why can the State government also not provide details of how many migrants have returned?" According to him the State’s inability to provide the data made it clear that it did not conduct COVID-19 tests on returning migrants. "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.

The 116 districts identified by the Centre for the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhijan is spread over Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Those districts with over 25,000 migrants who have returned have been selected for the scheme. Slamming the Centre for leaving out Bengal, Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, who is also Mamata’s nephew and heir apparent to the party leadership, pointed out that several districts in Bengal had well over 25,000 returnee migrants — 2,24,052 in Murshidabad, 1,33,073 in Cooch Behar, 1,03,041 in Paschim Medinipur, 93,000 in Hooghly, 84,174 in Malda and others. "The reason why not a single district in Bengal was brought under the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhijan is because the people of Bengal did not vote the BJP to power…. These people do not want what is good for Bengali people," said Abhishek.

According to the Centre there were around 40 lakh migrants from Bengal who were stranded in different parts of the country due to the nationwide lockdown. According to the State government around 11 lakh migrants have managed to return home.

COVID CASES CROSS 600 IN A SINGLE DAY

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation in the State continues to worsen, with 624 new cases on June 29, the highest single-day spike. The total number of cases (as of June 29) stood at 17,907, including 5,619 active cases. The number of people who have died due to coronavirus is 667, including 14 deaths that took place in the last 24 hours. The discharge rate stood at 65.44 per cent.

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