The Railways on Saturday announced that West Bengal had approved eight trains to bring migrants stranded in other states.
This came at the end of a day of charges and counter-charges over a letter Union Home Minister Amit Shah had reportedly written to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing the state government of not allowing ‘shramik trains’ run by the Railways to reach the state. The state government hit back by putting out a list of eight trains it had requested from other states to bring back stranded migrant labourers.
While Union Home Ministry sources confirmed that Amit Shah had indeed written a letter, there was no official confirmation from the ministry nor were contents of the letter shared. Sources in Kolkata said Shah in his letter accused the Bengal government of not taking back its migrants stranded in other states.
After initially denying that they had any knowledge of requests for trains to West Bengal, the Railways said the state approved eight trains on Saturday.
The ministry tweeted: “Indian Railways has so far run more then 300 trains, mainly for states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, MP etc. But for WB [West Bengal] till today morning, we had received approval for only 2 Shramik special trains, 1 from Ajmer Sharif & other from Ernakulam.”
“After request of Hon’ble HM, today afternoon, WB has approved 2 trains from Punjab, 2 from TN, 3 from Karnataka & 1 from Telangana, which are being arranged,” another tweet said, adding, “However, WB has not approved any train from Maharashtra, while there is a requirement of 16 trains to WB and presently 6 requests are pending for which approval is still awaited from WB.”
Late Saturday night, the West Bengal Home Secretary issued a statement calling the Railways’ tweet “misleading and incorrect” and that all eight trains had been approved and communicated to the states concerned on Friday.
Earlier, the draft schedule put out by the state government said eight special trains have been arranged to bring back stranded people – three from Bengaluru, two from Vellore in Tamil Nadu, two from Punjab and one from Hyderabad, all of which were to reach various destinations in Bengal between May 10 and May 12. The special train from Hyderabad is scheduled to depart on Saturday and reach English Bazaar station in Malda district on Sunday afternoon.
So far, only two special trains have arrived in Bengal — one from Ernakulam in Kerala and the other from Ajmer in Rajashthan.
In Kolkata, Trinamool MPs Abhishek Banerjee and Derek O’Brien hit out at Shah over the ‘letter’.
“A Home Minister failing to discharge his duties during this crisis speaks after weeks of silence, only to mislead people with (a) bundle of lies! Ironically, he is talking about the very people who have been literally left to fate by his own government. Mr Amit Shah, prove your fake allegations or apologise,” Banerjee said in a tweet.
Derek O’Brien said, “Everything in the letter is a lie…we all know two trains have come in. Total 80,000 (people) came in by bus… You try to spread absolute lies and nonsense…”
Reacting to statements of Trinamool leaders, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “The state government must give details of how many people from Bengal are stranded in other states and how many trains have been arranged for their safe return. Unless the information is put out, no one knows what is the state government doing to help these people. The state government is not serious about bringing back stranded people and is blaming the Central government.”
11 dead, 108 new cases in 24 hours in Bengal
Eleven people died due to coronavirus and 108 more tested positive in West Bengal in the last 24 hours, Home Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said on Saturday. According to the health bulletin released by the state government, the toll stood at 171. While 99 people died due to coronavirus, the remaining succumbed to co-morbidity. The total number of positive cases reached 1,786.