Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday announced that her government had decided to bear the entire cost of the return journey of migrant workers from West Bengal stranded in other states, even as the administration said an international flight carrying 160 citizens from Dhaka would land in the city on Monday.
Earlier this month, the Centre had said 85 per cent of the cost of train tickets would be borne by the Ministry of Railways, while the rest would have to be paid by the states.
Banerjee’s announcement came a day after Railway Minister Piyush Goyal accused a number of states, including West Bengal, of not granting permission to receive the trains. The states dismissed the minister’s claim.
“Saluting the toil faced by our migrant brethren, I am pleased to announce the decision of GoWB to bear the entire cost of movement for our migrant workers by special trains from other states to West Bengal. No migrant will be charged. Letter to Railway Board attached,” tweeted Banerjee, attaching Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha’s letter to Railway Board Chairperson VK Yadav.
In his letter, Sinha wrote, “I would like to confirm that the entire cost of the movement by special trains to West Bengal, of the migrants of the state stranded in various parts of the country, shall be borne by the Government of West Bengal.”
Later in the afternoon, Home Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay briefed reporters about this decision at state secretariat Nabanna.
“These trains are only for stranded people who are under distress, and not for normal movements. All migrant labourers, students, and pilgrims can come back to West Bengal without any tickets. The state government will bear the cost,” he added.
Giving an update about the 105 additional special trains that Mamata Banerjee had announced on Thursday, the Home Secretary said: “Already seven trains have entered the state. Two more are coming. Total 105 trains are coming. Out of which, 28 are coming from Kerala, 18 from Maharashtra, 10 from Tamil Nadu, seven from Uttar Pradesh, six each from Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, five each from Gujarat, Karnataka and Telangana, three from Andhra Pradesh, two from Punjab, and one each from Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.”
Bandyopadhyay said the effort to bring back those stranded was a “huge and herculean exercise”.
“All the stations where the trains will stop will have a huge infrastructure of medical camp, police force, and other infrastructure,” he added.
Providing details about the returnees, the Home Secretary said, “Appeals to the state government for special transportation had been made by 2,92,395 people. Also many people are coming back with their own vehicle or arranged vehicles. Already the government has issued 24,349 entry passes for 1,14,992 people. On the other hand, 2,15,915 persons went back to their state from West Bengal.”
Asked about the Centre’s “Vande Bharat Mission” bringing back Indians stranded abroad, Bandyopadhyay said a flight would arrive in Kolkata from Dhaka on Monday with 160 passengers. According to sources in the airport, it is expected to arrive around 12.30 pm.
“Those who are coming back from abroad will have to stay in institutional quarantine. If they want to stay in hotels, they will have to pay for it. We have already arranged several hotels, and provided the list to the Ministry of External Affairs. We hope the ministry will circulate the list to the passengers,” said the Home Secretary, adding that the state would conduct medical check-up of the passengers.