West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (PTI)
KOLKATA: Terming Shramik Special trains “Corona Expresses”, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday blamed the railways for the sudden spike in the state’s Covid numbers, while laying out a detailed blueprint for a gradual revival of the economy from June 1. Mamata criticised the railways for ferrying migrant workers home in “cramped train compartments, often without food or water”. She took particular exception to the manner in which social distancing rules were being flouted on the trains. “Two to three people are having to share a seat when it is the state government which is paying for passengers on 235 trains,” she said.
“Tell me why the railways is not maintaining social distancing… These trains are spreading terror among citizens. Villagers are saying, ‘Corona Express is coming, bhaag jao’.” “When I was the railway minister, I increased the number of bogies on each train to 25,” Mamata said. “I know that the railways has a huge number of bogeys, which is why it can run special trains during festivals. The railways could have run more trains instead, allotting a berth per passenger. They could have given them food and water,” she added, saying the “unhealthy and inhuman” conditions in which migrants were being sent to the state had caused the uptick in its Covid numbers.
Mamata also spelt out the post-lockdown roadmap for Bengal: from June 1, public and private offices, places of worship and shops can all open in a phased manner, but educational institutions will remain shut till June-end. She also eased the 20-passengers only restriction on private buses.
From June, the maximum number of passengers, for each bus, is its seating capacity. No one would be allowed to stand, the CM specified. The CM spoke about infrastructural constraints the state was facing with the twin challenges of Covid and Cyclone Amphan. “We have a certain capacity for health screening. How can we manage things if one lakh people are sent in a day?” In her attempt to balance life and livelihood, Mamata said Bengal would allow shops to open, hawkers to set up stalls and tea gardens and jute mills to start operating in full swing from June 1.
From June 8, government and private offices are free to reopen, but with restrictions. State government offices, she clarified later, would operate with 70% workforce (up from 50%), while in the private sector, she left it to the managements to “decide on workforce capacity and act accordingly”. She urged everyone in the private sector to stay safe and “work indoors as much as possible”.