West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday accused the Railway Ministry of sending shramik special trains full of migrant workers to the state without prior intimation, NDTV reported. Seeking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention, Banerjee claimed that the Railway Ministry had been “evacuating Maharashtra and spreading corona[virus] to Bengal”.
Of the 225 trains expected to arrive in West Bengal, 41 are from Maharashtra, which has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. Only 19 trains have reached West Bengal so far, but Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur – three regions where migrant workers have made their way to their homes after their arrival – have reported spurts in cases.
“I don’t know why Railway Ministry has done this,” Banerjee said. “How will I screen two lakh migrants? Will the Centre help? Politics has overtaken everything. Am I to fight the cyclone and corona or politics? It is all too much.”
Banerjee claimed that the Railway Ministry told West Bengal “suddenly” on Tuesday that 36 trains from Maharashtra would be leaving for the state. She alleged that even the Maharashtra government had no inkling of this before the announcement was made.
The West Bengal chief minister also alleged that the Railway Ministry was unconcerned about physical distancing in trains, pointing to the large number of passengers each carries. “You are evacuating Maharashtra and spreading corona to Bengal,” Banerjee claimed.
Banerjee then asked Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to look into the running of shramik special trains from other states to West Bengal.
On Tuesday, the Kerala government had criticised the Centre for its handling of special trains amid the lockdown, saying its method of sending trains without prior information could derail the state’s protocol to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. This came after a train carrying workers from Mumbai allegedly reached the state unexpectedly.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala had no objections to its people returning home but lack of prior information was posing problems and it could derail or “subvert” the state’s anti-coronavirus programme.
Union Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal has been at loggerheads with both the West Bengal and Maharashtra governments – both ruled by non-BJP parties – over the matter of running special trains for migrant labourers.
On May 14, Goyal attacked the West Bengal government, accusing it of not operating enough trains. He claimed that while there was a need to operate 105 trains per day to the state, the Banerjee-led government was allowing just 105 trains a month to enter.
On May 25, the railway minister lashed out at Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that the state government had provided the Centre with the details of only 46 out of the 125 “Shramik Special” trains that were to operate. Goyal’s retort came after Thackeray said on Sunday that the Maharashtra government had received only 40 out of the 80 trains it had asked for.
The Centre launched over 300 “Shramik Special” trains on May 1 to enable migrant labourers stranded at their places of work to return to their villages, amid a nationwide lockdown to control the coronavirus. However, many migrant workers have continued to walk home or travel in private vehicles.
As of Wednesday evening, West Bengal has reported 4,009 cases of Covid-19, including 283 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. In Maharashtra, a whopping 54,758 people have been infected, and 1,792 of them have died.