West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal locked horns on Thursday over the return of stranded workers, with the CM announcing 105 trains to bring them home and the BJP leader accusing the state government of not taking adequate measures.
Bringing back migrant labourers and stranded people to Bengal has snowballed into a major political issue, with the opposition BJP and the Union government rapping the state for not doing enough and the Trinamool Congress denying it.
"Towards our commitment to helping all our people stuck in different parts of the country and who want to return to Bengal, I am pleased to announce that we have arranged 105 additional special trains. Over the coming days, these special trains will embark from different states for various destinations across Bengal bringing our people back home," Banerjee tweeted on Thursday morning.
In the evening, Goyal said the West Bengal government was not providing facilities to the migrants to return home and has allowed only seven 'Shramik Special' trains.
Despite his appeal to the state government to allow more 'Shramik Special' trains, there has been no response from it, he added.
The ruling Trinamool Congress of West Bengal hit back and accused Goyal of being absent during this monumental crisis.
Earlier, the government had given nod for 10 trains to facilitate the return of labourers, patients, tourists and students stranded in other states owing to the lockdown. Three of these 10 trains have reached the state so far.
In her tweet, Banerjee shared a list of 105 trains which would leave from Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan among others over the next few weeks.
The list suggested that three trains would commence their journey from New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore Urban on May 16 and reach New Coochbehar, Howrah and Malda Town respectively the following day.
The government's initiative to ferry stranded people home in trains would continue till June 14.
Later, in a series of tweets, Goyal said, "After my statement yesterday, the West Bengal government has woken up from its deep sleep. The government has yet allowed only seven trains for migrant workers... The workers of Bengal are far from their homes, so I had appealed to allow them to run more trains."
West Bengal needs to run 105 'Shramik Special' trains daily to take stranded migrants back home, but "there is unconfirmed news that for the next 30 days they have prepared a list of just 105 trains", he said.
"It is a cruel joke with the migrant workers of West Bengal that the government there is not giving them the facility to go to their houses," Goyal said.
The railway minister said, "So far, the government of West Bengal has not allowed eight trains to run, as per its announcement last week."
"This is a petty attempt to trick West Bengal's migrant workers, and the government is running away from its responsibility to take the poor labourers home. Uttar Pradesh cleared 400 trains in less than 15 days and brought its migrant workers home. Instead of showing this kind of alacrity, the West Bengal government is preventing the labourers from getting assistance," he said.
Goyal urged the West Bengal government to think about the interests of the workers who have to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state should allow the Railways to run more special trains as soon as possible to take stranded migrants home, he said.
The railway minister's statement did not go down well with the TMC, which dubbed it as "cheap politics and an attempt to score political brownie points at the time of crisis".
"The minister has been all but absent during this monumental crisis when millions of poor migrant workers have been abandoned. They've been left to fend for themselves, stuck all over the country waiting for some help from government to safely return to their homes and families," TMC Rajya Sabha party leader Derek O' Brien said.
Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, however, welcomed the move by the state government and said it should have taken the steps several days earlier.
Last week Union Home Minister Amit Shah had flagged the issue of non-cooperation by the West Bengal government in bringing back stranded labourers.
The Centre had also rapped the state government over its handling of the COVID crisis in the state.