West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday (June 10) denied having called the Shramik Special trains ferrying migrant labourers back home, “Corona Express” as alleged by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
She insisted that it was the people who gave that name to the overcrowded trains that were helping migrants return home, but did not ensure social distancing. “More than 11 lakh migrants have returned to Bengal. I never said Corona Express. I said the public is saying it. You can see my original statement. I said the public said,” NDTV quoted Banerjee as saying.
Banerjee said people started calling the Shramik Special trains “Corona Express” as those with the capacity to accomodate 2,000 people were ferrying 3,000 to 4,000 labourers in cramped bogies.
Her comments came a day after Shah, while addressing a virtual rally for West Bengal, accused Banerjee of “insulting” migrant workers by calling the trains “Corona Express”.
He had asserted that the “Corona Express will become the ‘Exit Express’ for her government” in the 2021 Assembly polls.
The West Bengal Chief Minister has been at loggerheads with the Centre for the past two/three months over the issue of trains for migrants.
Earlier, the state government reportedly did not cooperate with the Centre to run trains to West Bengal for migrant workers. However, the state BJP said it had been necessary to withhold permission at that time.
Shortly after this, the Centre declared that the consent of states was not needed to run the Shramik Special trains to any state.
Contrary to the Centre’s sentiments indicated above, Banerjee said the Centre initially did not show any interest in helping out migrant workers, and only expressed concern after pressure from the states.
Criticising the Centre for going ahead with an “unplanned lockdown”, Banerjee said the “migrant crisis” could have been averted had the Union government plied Sharmik Special trains to send back migrants labourers much before the lockdown was enforced.
“If you (the Centre) had run the Shramik Express trains for seven days and sent the migrant workers home before announcing the lockdown, then these people would not have suffered for three months,” Banerjee said.
During a Facebook live on Tuesday, Banerjee issued a clarification on why the state did not allow train services earlier. “I request all of you not to sensationalise everything. The train services have been kept closed because of one reason — so that people are not packed closely into a small space as the corona infection may spread,” NDTV quoted her as saying.
Her statement was similar to that of the Opposition Congress, which had alleged that the railways had not paid any heed to social distancing norms while transferring the migrants, thus increasing the risk of the spread of the infection.