Centre told about preparedness to receive repatriation flights: West Bengal home dept

Kolkata, May 15 (PTI) West Bengal 'long back' communicated to the Union government the preparations made to welcome back people stranded abroad, the state said on Friday, replying to the Centre's assertion that repatriation flights can be facilitated to Kolkata if Bengal confirms the arrangements to receive and quarantine passengers.

Indians stranded in various countries due to COVID-19-related restrictions are being brought back in special flights under the Centre's Vande Bharat Mission.

'GOWB (government of West Bengal) keen to welcome back our people stranded in different countries and has long back communicated its agreement as well as quarantine arrangements details etc. to GoI for special international inbound journeys. Letters attached. Bengal awaits flights,' the West Bengal home department tweeted.

It also shared the two letters written by West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on May 8 and 11. The letters mention the details regarding preparations for institutional quarantine facilities for foreign returnees. On Thursday, the state and the Centre had locked horns over West Bengal not being allotted any repatriation flight.

West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee had alleged that the Centre was discriminating between states in terms of allotting repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.

The charge was denied by the MEA within a few hours with its spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, tweeting, 'The MEA does not discriminate between states. GOI's Vande Bharat Mission is for all stranded Indians, including those from West Bengal.' 'Will gladly facilitate flights to Kolkata if the state government will confirm arrangements to receive and quarantine. Will also help in return of West Bengal residents through land borders with neighbours. We hope to receive an early response on the matter. @MoCAGoI @HomeSecretaryWB,' Srivastava had tweeted.

Chatterjee, while reacting to the MEA's reply, wondered why the Centre was yet to act when the state government had already informed it about the details sought for allotting repatriation flights.

The issue took a political hue with the BJP lapping up the issue to attack ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

'We have seen how the state government has been dilly-dallying the issue of bringing back citizens stranded in other states. Initially, they didn't apply for special trains to ferry migrants. So, it is quite expected that they have not applied for flights to bring back citizens of Bengal stranded abroad,' Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said.

Instead of trying to play to the gallery by issuing statements on Twitter, the state government should come out with concrete proofs on whether it has applied for any repatriation flight, he said.

'The West Bengal government should make arrangements to bring back our citizens', Ghosh said.

The exchange of words on allotment of Vande Bharat Mission flights comes close on heels of the Centre and the state sparring on running of 'Special Shramik' trains to ferry stranded migrant workers hailing from Bengal back home.

The West Bengal government was last week rapped by the Centre for not allowing trains to ferry migrants, stranded in other states.

The state government had denied the charge and said it had already requisitioned trains to bring back migrant labourers. PTI PNT SCH SNS ANB ANB