Rejecting Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s accusation that she had called the Shramik Special trains ferrying migrant workers home as “Corona Express”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said people, in fact, had given that name to those trains, and accused the BJP-led Centre of putting migrant workers into trouble with its mismanagement of the lockdown.
Wondering what the BJP has done for these workers so far, Banerjee asked why the Centre did not send them home before announcing the nationwide lockdown, starting March 25.
Addressing the media a day after Shah’s online address of BJP leaders and workers in the state, Banerjee also said that more than 11 lakh migrant labourers have already returned to West Bengal, and that 30,000 people are yet to come back.
On Tuesday, Shah had said, “Uttar Pradesh received 1,700 trains, Bihar 1,500. (But) I was stunned when Mamata-didi called Shramik Special trains coming to Bengal as ‘Corona Express’. You insulted the migrants, you rubbed salt into their wounds, and now this Corona Express will lead you to your exit (from power). People will not forget this insult.”
Replying to that accusation, Banerjee on Wednesday said, “It (statement) was wrongly reported. I never called the trains ‘Corona Express’. It was the public who said that.”
Blaming the Union government for the plight of the migrant workers, Banerjee said, “If you (Centre) had run Shramik Express trains for seven days and sent them (people working in other states) home before announcing the lockdown, then these shramiks (labourers) would not have suffered for three months.” The Centre, she said, should learn from the state in this matter: “The migrants here did not want to go anywhere.”
Banerjee also said that the people have been “betrayed” by the central government, and that during the time of a pandemic “people are indulging in politics”.
She said that when the lockdown was announced the Centre had said that salaries will be paid to employees in full but later backtracked on that.
Banerjee also said that schools in West Bengal are likely to remain shut until July. “We had (earlier) announced that schools will remain shut till June, but I am sure it will have to be extended to July, too,” she said. Urging private schools in the state to not hike fees this year, the Trinamool Congress chief said, “People do not have money. First note-bandi (demonetisation, announced in November 2016) and now ghar-bandi (lockdown). In such a scenario, we have to continue functioning,” she said.
To avoid overcrowding in public buses, as more establishments open, Banerjee announced that government employees will work in a staggered manner, and in two shifts. The first shift, she said, will operate from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm, and the latter between 12.30 pm and 5.30 pm. With this, people will leave for office – and return home – at different times, thus avoiding unnecessary crowding in buses and on roads, the Chief Minister said.
“I will also appeal to private organisations to let as many people work from home (as is possible). I told our (government) offices that considering the present situation, late mark (for delay in reporting for duty) will not be applied for one hour from the scheduled time,” she said.
Expressing concern on the state of the pandemic in West Bengal, Banerjee said, “Cases are increasing every day…. We have to be more cautious.” She said the state government had to allow shops to reopen, “or else, how would people have survived?”
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