The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government on Saturday said that the state will bear the entire cost of movement of migrant workers by special trains from other states during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. “No migrant worker will be charged,” Chief Minister Banerjee tweeted.
The announcement came amid a controversy involving the state and the central government, where the Centre has claimed that it has not been receiving the expected support from Bengal to help migrants reach home.
Banerjee said that she salutes the difficulties faced by the migrant labourers. “I am pleased to announce the decision of [the] GoWB [Government of West Bengal] to bear the entire cost of movement for our migrant workers by special trains from other states to West Bengal,” she tweeted, along with a letter attached to the Railway Board.
Earlier on Thursday, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had said that there was a need to operate 105 “Shramik Special” trains to West Bengal per day, but the state was taking in just 105 a month. He claimed that the state had allowed only seven ‘Shramik Special’ trains.
Goyal added that if West Bengal did not accept its migrants, there could be many more cases of labourers and their children walking home for hundreds of kilometres, or using dangerous means to try to get to their hometowns. He said the Banerjee-led government should speed up the process of setting up adequate arrangements to get the migrants home.
Scores of migrant labourers were left stranded after the Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25. Incidentally, the Centre only started operating ‘Shramik Special’ trains for migrant workers on May 1, after receiving much flak from the Opposition. By this time, many workers had already started walking home. While some managed to reach their villages, many had been stopped at state borders. Some also died along the way.