Migrant workers & politics in Bengal: Why has Bengal been ignored in the job scheme for migrants? Trinamool’s Abhishek Banerjee asks PM Modi in tweet

Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee on Monday used his official Twitter handle to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi why West Bengal had not been made a part of the job scheme for returnee migrant workers.

Banerjee wrote: “Shri @narendramodi Ji, why have you blatantly ignored concerns of 11 lakh migrant workers from #Bengal who’ve recently returned to their homes. Why has WB been left out of the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan? Why this apathy towards the people of Bengal?”

Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury also raised the same question, and wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him about the matter.

Altogether 116 districts in six states have been selected – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Rajasthan – under the programme. Districts which have over 25,000 returnee migrant workers have been selected – and tied to 25 projects with funds support of Rs 50,000 crore. The state administrations will handle the projects with Central funds support for 125 days. However, West Bengal is not part of the list.

Several West Bengal districts including Malda, Murdhidabad, South 24 Parganas, Cooch Behar, South 24 Parganas, West Midnapore have large number of migrant worker returnees.

Since the lockdown was imposed to contain Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), lakhs of migrant workers got stranded in various parts of the country. In the absence of work, they preferred to return to their homes but due to lack of transport available, many started walking. According to a report, till May 20, at least 162 migrant workers were killed in various accidents on the road since the lockdown was imposed.

After the special Shramik Special trains were started to facilitate the migrant workers to reach their homes, it was alleged that the trains were overcrowded, and many did not have food and water. According to a report, around 80 people died in these trains between May 9 and May 27. The reasons of death was said to be due to COVID-19 in one case and “co-morbidities” in case of the others.

West Bengal – where state elections are scheduled in 2021 – has already seen discussion by politicians on the plight of migrant workers over the past few weeks.

At a “virtual rally” organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Union home minister Amit Shah had said that Mamata Banerjee referring to the trains as “Corona Express” will lead the Trinamool Congress out of Bengal. “Migrant workers won’t forget the insult and this train will pave the way for the Trinamool Congress’ exit,” Shah had said.

Mamata Banerjee clarified that she had not named the trains “Corona” express, but people were calling them so, as migrant workers had been packed inside the trains without social distancing and this was leading to huge increase of virus spread. “The announcement of lockdown was made suddenly, people were not given time to return home if they wanted to. And then they were packed into the trains without planning and without social distancing,” she said.

Over 11 lakh migrant workers have travelled from various parts of the country to West Bengal over the past few weeks in more than 250 trains.

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