Even as the Centre has been gunning for the Maharashtra government over the state’s alleged inability to bring more migrant workers to board Shramik Special trains from Mumbai, the West Bengal government jumped into the fray on Wednesday and took on the Centre for sending trains to the state supposedly without keeping them in the loop.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the Railways on its own was sending 36 Shramik trains from Maharashtra, and her government had not been informed about. She alleged that even the Maharashtra government had been informed about the trains late.
Urging the Prime Minister to intervene, she said, “They (Railways) are acting according to their whims and fancies. I appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look seriously into the situation to stop spread of the infection. I request the PM and the Union Home Minister to look into the matter and intervene.”
In Mumbai, Maharashtra Transport Minister Anil Parab said CM Uddhav Thackeray’s statement – that the state had demanded 80 trains but was getting only 30 – has angered Railways Minister Piyush Goyal. In all, Parab said, Maharashtra had demanded 178 trains until May 30, but Railways 152 trains for one day.
“Due to Cyclone Amphan, the West Bengal government had requested Maharashtra to send only two trains a day. We had demanded 48 trains until May 30 but they scheduled 43 on a single day for West Bengal. This was done deliberately so that migrants should not go home and the Maharashtra government is blamed for it,” Parab told the media.
Banerjee said 225 trains are expected to arrive in West Bengal from across the country, 41 of them from Maharashtra, the state with most confirmed coronavirus cases. She said 19 trains have arrived in Bengal so far.
“I don’t know why the Railways Ministry has done this. How will I screen 2 lakh migrants,” she asked. “It seems politics has overtaken everything. Am I to fight the cyclone and coronavirus, or politics? We had given a list and a schedule for (Shramik) trains but were suddenly told yesterday that 36 trains are now leaving for Bengal. Maharashtra said even they had no idea about it.”
The Railways, Banerjee said, has “started politics – you are evacuating (from) Maharashtra and spreading corona to Bengal.”
Railways sources at various locations confirmed to The Indian Express that the number quoted by Banerjee was not off the mark. “We are running the trains at the behest of the sending states. As per new MHA guidelines, we are informing destination states and not seeking permission. In the case of West Bengal too, it was done,” a senior official said.
The Railways Ministry did not respond on the matter, and minister Piyush Goyal, engaged in a war of words with the Uddhav Thackeray government for the past few days, remained silent as well.
The Indian Express has learnt that movement of empty rakes of Shramik Specials had been prioritised to move to Western Railway and Central and Mumbai in particular for several days. Over 100 trains were planned for departure from there for destinations such as West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. Seeing that Maharashtra was able to use much less trains than what Railways kept ready on Tuesday, officials told The Indian Express that the initial wave of departure seems to have petered out.
On Wednesday, 26 trains left Mumbai, 13 of which were spillovers from Tuesday. Sources in the Railways said the trend might continue at least from Mumbai.
In Kolkata, Banerjee told the media that 11 Shramik Special trains are slated to arrive in West Bengal late Wednesday, and 17 more are scheduled to arrive Thursday.
She said: “I had told Union Home Minister Amit Shah, ‘if you wish to send more trains, then do so. If you think the West Bengal government is failing to handle the situation, then you take over it’. But he told me that they cannot topple an elected government. I thank him for saying it.
“First you (Centre) announce lockdown and now you send trains (without informing states).”
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