West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said that migrant workers were being used to play politics. She said that migrant workers had not been taken care of by the Centre, and instead, Bengal was being accused to not allowing them to enter the state. “Had we not allowed them to come in, how would 10.5 lakh have come in?” she asked.
In a television interview on June 1, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had alleged that the West Bengal chief minister was not allowing trains carrying migrant workers to enter the state. “Don’t you think it is the right of the ‘mazdoor’ to stay with their family members during the pandemic? But Mamataji is not allowing more trains to Bengal,” Shah had said during the interview.
On Wednesday, Banerjee said that lakhs of migrant workers have already come to Bengal. This includes 6.5 lakh in buses and another 2.4 lakh workers in trains. Another 1.5 lakh migrant workers will be arriving in trains, she said.
She said that the Centre had not even paid for the train fare of the migrant workers, and the West Bengal government had paid for it. “They have been packed into the trains and many are without food and water,” she said. Banerjee said that those who can’t even afford to pay train fare of the migrant workers must not make provocative statements on them.
During the day, hundreds of migrant workers returning to West Bengal held a protest at Saithia railway station as the train in which they were travelling did not stop at Malda station. They also alleged lack of food and water available to them, and the protest was eventually lifted as the train was directed towards Malda again.
Banerjee explained that the state government has been working to help the migrant workers coming into the state, while the Centre had not paid even for their train fare. Under the state government’s scheme, “Sneher Porosh”, 4.57 migrant workers have been given Rs 1,000 each, amounting to Rs 45.7 crore. Under the “Prochesta” scheme, 1,62,016 unorganised sector workers were given Rs 16 crore. The government has paid Rs 25 crore as fare for workers travelling in 235 trains. Altogether Rs 40 crore has been spent by the Bengal government in bringing back the migrant workers, Banerjee said. Another Rs 3 crore is being spent daily on food and in quarantine centres across the state and Rs 8 crore has been spent on health screening of the incoming migrant workers, said Banerjee.
She added that many state governments have gone for pay cuts for employees due to lack of revenue generation but even with so many loans, the Bengal government hasn’t yet taken that path.