The West Bengal government alleged on Thursday that the Indian Army had been deployed across the state without due permission from the state administration. This was after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s claimed that troops had been stationed outside the state secretariat.
Earlier in the day, Banerjee had hosted a press conference where she had alleged that the army was checking vehicles in Dankuni (Hooghly district) and Palsit (Bardhaman). At midnight on Thursday, Banerjee tweeted that the Indian Army has been deployed across 10 districts in West Bengal.
At 10 pm, Banerjee had said that the Army troops were “stationed in front of Nabanno, the Bengal State Secretariat in a high security zone, in spite of Police objection”. The chief minister said she will be stationed at the secretariat till the troops were withdrawn.
The Hindu confirmed that vehicles marked “Military Police” were stationed on a bridge next to the secretariat. Trinamool spokesperson Derek O’ Brien posted videos of the army checking vehicles at the told plaza on the bridge, asserting that state permission for this exercise had not been taken. Banerjee claimed that the army was collecting money from vehicles, asking rhetorically, “Is this the work of the Army?”
In a statement, the Indian Army said that the exercise was a conducted regularly, “with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the Army in case of a contingency”.
The Indian Army refuted the West Bengal government’s allegations and claimed that it was “conducting routine exercise with full knowledge and coordination with West Bengal Police”. It also added, “speculation of army taking over toll plaza incorrect”.
The Indian Army’s claim of informing the police was, in turn, refuted by both the West Bengal chief minister as well as the Kolkata Police. The police claimed that while the army had asked for permission to conduct an exercise at the toll plaza, this had been objected to, citing security reasons and traffic inconvenience. Banerjee also expressed scepticism at the claim of data collection. “Doesn’t the National Highway Authority of India have all the required data about vehicular movement,” said the chief minister.
The Congress has expressed support for the Trinamool Congress and officials said the issue will be raised in Parliament on Friday.
These claims of unauthorised troop deployment come a day after Chief Minister Banerjee had alleged an assassination attempt on her, claiming that her IndiGo flight from Patna on Wednesday night was not allowed to land at Kolkata Airport even as it ran low on fuel.
IndiGo airlines however clarified that the plane was never low on fuel. In a statement issued on Thursday, it said the pilot at no stage declared an emergency or fuel priority for the flight. An emergency landing was accidentally declared because of a “misinterpretation” by the Air Traffic Control, it added.
Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha told the Rajya Sabha that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will investigate the matter.