8.5 lakh people brought back to Bengal, says Mamata; BJP says far from reality

Kolkata, Jun 3 (PTI) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday rejected the opposition allegation that her government was not willing to bring back migrant workers and claimed that the state had so far brought back 8.5 lakh people stranded in various parts of the country.

The opposition BJP said her claim was 'far from reality' as did the CPI(M).

Banerjee said by June 10, her government will bring back around 10.5 lakh people from various parts of the country.

The issue of bringing migrant workers back to Bengal has snowballed into a major political row in the last few weeks with the BJP and the Centre alleging that the state government is not keen to take them back.

Banerjee told a review meeting at the secretariat, 'Some people are spreading canards against my government that we are not willing to bring back migrant labourers. This is false. So far, we have brought back 8.5 lakh migrants and by June 10, around 10.5 lakh migrants will be back in the state.' On her government's stand on the issue, she said, 'We had only said the migrants should be brought back in a staggered way as their huge numbers might lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state.' The chief minister's comments come in the backdrop of several Bengal districts witnessing the return of a large number of migrant workers and a steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the last 10 days.

Claiming that some people are trying to instigate and mislead the migrant workers, in an indirect reference to the criticism by opposition BJP, Congress and the Left, Banerjee said if her government was not willing, then how could over 2.4 lakh migrant workers return to the state by trains.

'Another 6.5 lakh people have come by buses and other means of road transport,' she said, adding that another 1.5 lakh migrant workers will return by trains within June 10.

Banerjee said what her government told the Centre about bringing back migrants to the state was being misinterpreted.

'What we had said was that if the migrants were brought back before the lockdown, then they would not have had to go through so much hardship,' she said.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo claimed that the migrant workers did not get proper food or healthcare facilities at the places where they were working.

West Bengal, she said, was the only state that paid for their train fares and also arranged for transport to take them home from the railway stations.

'We gave Rs 1,000 to each of the over 4.57 lakh migrant workers under the 'Sneher Porosh' (touch of affection) scheme and spent Rs 45.70 crore to provide succour to them,' Banerjee said.

She said the state had given Rs 25 crore as the fare for returnees in 237 trains that have arrived or will arrive from different parts of the country.

'We have already paid Rs 12 crore and the rest will be deposited,' she said.

Besides, the state government has spent Rs 11 crore to provide buses for transporting the migrants and another Rs four crore for bringing back students from Rajasthan's Kota in about 100 buses, Banerjee said.

Moreover, an amount of Rs three crore was being spent daily for the institutional quarantine of the migrant workers and the government, despite facing a revenue loss of over Rs 6,500 crore, paid full salaries to its employees each month, she said.

The chief minister said an amount of Rs 16 crore was spent by her government in paying Rs 1,000 each to more than 1.62 lakh people in the unorganised sector, apart from providing free ration to people.

She said individuals as well as several companies and institutions have donated around Rs 150 crore to the COVID-19 fund and the money was used in buying ventilators, making a few lakh PPE kits and procuring medicines.

Banerjee said an amount of Rs 700 crore to Rs 800 crore was already spent on COVID-19 management in West Bengal.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh questioned Banerjee's claim that 8.5 lakh workers were brought back to Bengal.

'Lakhs of migrants from Bengal are still stranded in various parts of the country. Every day we are getting calls asking us to bring them back. The state government is saying it has brought back 8.5 lakh people, but this is far from the reality. Instead of playing to the gallery, the state government should take steps to bring back the hapless workers,' he said.

The CPI(M) too expressed doubt about the chief minister's claims and urged her to take steps to bring back the stranded workers. PTI AMR PNT KK RC