West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday announced that the state government will provide free ration to the poor till June 2021, News18 reported. Banerjee’s move came immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during an address to the country that the Centre would provide free foodgrains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana to 80 crore people till November this year, amid economic distress caused by the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
“In Bengal, only 60% people are getting central ration,” Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata. “Today, they [the Centre] will give free foodgrains, tomorrow they will not give... Why such discrimination? Hence, I have decided to provide free ration to poor people till June 2021 in West Bengal.” Banerjee asked Modi to provide ration to all 130 crore Indians.
Asked about the announcement of the “One Nation, One Ration Card” scheme, Banerjee said she is not clear what it is about. “Earlier, people used to get ration cards made of paper,” she said. “Now they get digital cards.”
West Bengal has extended the lockdown till July 31. However, Banerjee said the government had allowed morning walks, mandating physical distancing measures, from 5.30 am to 8.30 am. She said that a maximum of 50 guests, instead of 25, can now attend a wedding ceremony.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha wrote to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, asking for the home ministry’s consent to run some metro trains in Kolkata to ferry people providing essential services, ANI reported. On Monday, the Centre issued “Unlock 2” guidelines, easing some restrictions, but said that the operation of metro rail would remain prohibited.
“Kolkata metro carries a daily passenger load of six to seven lakh while the buses carry 10-12 lakh passengers daily,” Sinha wrote. “Although the load of daily passengers is much less during the current crisis since there is no metro running in the city the whole load is coming on bus transport supplemented by private taxis and app cabs. This is too meagre as against the requirement.”
Sinha asked Bhalla for the Union home ministry’s consent to run a “bare minimum” of metro services to ferry people associated with essential services such as health and medical workers, police personnel, power sector staff and municipal staff.
Sinha also wrote to the Ministry of Civil Aviation asking it not to schedule any flight to Kolkata or Bagdogra airports from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chennai, Indore, Ahmedabad or Surat for two weeks starting July 6. He also asked the ministry to allow only one flight a week per airline from other cities to Kolkata, Bagdogra and Andal airports.
He offered the rationale that some states, including West Bengal, are experiencing a large number of new cases, and many of the new patients in the state have arrived from outside. Sinha said the West Bengal government has decided to stop or curtail the movement of incoming flights and trains.
West Bengal has so far reported 17,907 cases of the coronavirus, including 653 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.