West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed on Wednesday that she never called special trains carrying migrants heading to her state “corona express”, NDTV reported. Banerjee said that it was the people who were calling these trains “corona express” – a reference to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I never said corona express. I said the public is saying it,” Banerjee said in a virtual press conference posted on Facebook. “You can see my original statement. I said the public said.”
The chief minister’s clarification came a day after Union Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that migrant labourers returning to West Bengal will never forget Banerjee’s remark.
“The name ‘Corona Express’ that you have given, Mamata didi, will become your exit route,” Shah told Banerjee during an interaction with Bharatiya Janata Party workers in the state via videoconferencing. “You’ve added salt to the wounds of the migrant workers and they will not forget this.” Shah claimed that while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar allowed 1,700 and 1,500 trains to enter their states, Banerjee gave them a derogatory name.
Banerjee on Wednesday accused the BJP of putting the lives of migrant workers at risk. “What has BJP done for migrants?” she asked according to India Today. “Why did they not transfer migrants back home a week before announcing the lockdown? Had they done that, migrants would not have had to face such trouble.”
The West Bengal chief minister said that instead of releasing more trains, the Centre decided to “pack in” 2,500 people in a train that could carry just 1,200. Banerjee added that 11 lakh migrant workers have returned to the state so far, with another 30,000 scheduled to reach West Bengal soon. She said the state had asked for 255 trains from the Centre, of which 22 are still to arrive.
“If you had run the Shramik Express trains for seven days and sent them home before announcing lockdown, then these shramiks [labourers] would not have suffered for three months,” Banerjee retorted, addressing the Centre.
Banerjee has sparred with the Narendra Modi-led central government over the past three months. The West Bengal chief minister had alleged last month that the Railway Ministry was “evacuating Maharashtra and spreading corona to Bengal”, referring to the large number of trains in transit between the two states.
The coronavirus has affected at least 8,985 people in West Bengal, and killed 415, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.