Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday night hardened her stand against the Centre alleging deployment of Army at certain toll plazas in West Bengal without informing the state government and refused to leave her office till the forces were not withdrawn from the toll plaza near the state secretariat.
"Why are they (Army) standing here? The police commissioner asked them to move out but they are still standing here. I am observing the whole situation. I am the custodian of my people and cannot move out of the secretariat when the Army is standing here," she told reporters.
"The Army has been deployed without informing the state government. This is unprecedented and a very serious matter," she claimed.
"The secretariat is a sensitive zone and toll plaza is a sensitive place. Why is the Army here? Whatever reason they are giving is not correct. They are lying. They are changing their reasons from time to time. The MHA has the complete data of the vehicles moving in different states," she said.
The army clarified that it is conducting a routine exercise with full knowledge of West Bengal police.
"Army conducting routine exercise with full knowledge & coord with WB Police. Speculation of army taking over toll plaza incorrect @adgpi," the Army said on its Twitter handle.
However, Mamata rebuked Army's claim and said that the it is misleading the people.
"Absolutely wrong and misleading facts by @easterncomd We have great respect for you, but please please don't mislead the people," she said in a tweet.
Even the West Bengal Police also tweeted to say: "Army exercise at toll plaza was objected to in writing by Kolkata Police, citing security reasons and traffic inconvenience."
Earlier, a defence spokesperson said there was "nothing to be alarmed" about the bi-annual exercise which the Army conducts across the country to get statistical data about load carriers that could be made available to it in case of a contingency.
Banerjee, however, said, "Their motive is political, unconstitutional, vindictive, unethical, undemocratic. I have decided that unless the Army is removed from in front of the secretariat, I will not move out. I will stay here tonight. Is there a military coup going in the country?"
The chief minister said she has checked with other states but nothing such has happened in Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha and Chhatisgarh.
"Why is that happening here? I fear that they can shoot. Either I will live or die but I will speak for the common people," Banerjee said.
"I do not have any problem if the Centre behaves like the central government. But they are repeatedly doing mistakes and now they are doing a blunder. It is an attack on the federal structure. We want to know the details," she said.
However, the defence spokesperson said there was nothing to be alarmed about the Army's exercise.
"There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders," Wing Commander S S Birdi said.
The exercise gives an estimate about the number of vehicles passing through a certain area that could be tapped during operations, he said.
Banerjee claimed the army personnel were taking money from the vehicles which they are not supposed to do. "The CP (Commissioner of Police) has raised objection but they are not listening," she said.
"Army is there in Kolkata, Hooghly, Howrah. Now they are in Murshidabad also. I cannot say what they will do at night. I have to stay here for common people. I have fought for the common man my entire life and I will continue speaking on behalf of the people," she added.
Photograph: PTI Photo