Opening a new front, Union home minister Amit Shah on Saturday accused the West Bengal government of not allowing trains to ferry stranded migrants to their home, but the state refuted the charge, saying 6,000 migrants have already returned and 10 trains carrying more labourers will arrive soon.
In what is expected to escalate the ongoing Centre-state confrontation, Shah, in a letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the state was not allowing trains with migrant workers reach the state and termed it as an "injustice" towards these workers.
The state government, however, dismissed the charge by saying 6,000 stranded workers have already been brought back, and the state has given green signal to 10 trains carrying more such workers.
Meanwhile, the railway officials rejected the claim by the state government.
They said there was no proposal on record so far with the national transporter to run any more 'Shramik Special' trains to the state.
However, later the railways said it had received "clearance" from West Bengal for running eight special trains to the state to ferry people stranded outside due to the ongoing lockdown.
The tussle over the return of migrant workers fanned the ongoing political storm in the state over the COVID-19 crisis between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee accused Shah of spreading a “bundle of lies” and challenged him to prove his allegations or apologise, promoting the BJP to hit back by saying, the state government was only making arrangements to bring back people from a particular community.
Referring to the Shramik Special trains being run by the central government to facilitate transportation of held up workers from different parts of the country to various destinations, Shah said migrant workers from West Bengal are also eager to reach home, but the Centre was not getting expected support from the state government to run the train services.
"But we are not getting expected support from West Bengal. The state government of West Bengal is not allowing trains to reach West Bengal. This is injustice with West Bengal migrant labourers. This will create further hardship for them," Shah wrote.
Later in the evening, West Bengal home secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay said, “So far, we have brought back 6,000 people stranded in other states. Ten trains carrying migrant labourers would be brought back to West Bengal soon.
"We have also arranged for special trains to bring the stranded pilgrims in other states. We have made all efforts to ensure safe and secure return of all those who are stranded, both in various districts and in other states,” Bandopadhyay said.
"We have also taken steps to bring back people from our state stranded in other countries through special planes and have also spoken to the Union government regarding it," he said.
The railway officials said 47 trains have been planned for Saturday, none of them was bound for West Bengal.
One train from Ajmer in Rajasthan and another from Ernakulam in Kerala had brought around 2,500 stranded people and migrant labourers of Bengal on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Meanwhile, endorsing Bandopadhyay's claim, the Trinamool Congress IT cell released three letters written by Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha and additional chief secretary to the states of Rajasthan, Karnataka and Kerala, regarding bringing back of migrant labourers and citizens held up outside the state following imposition of nationwide shutdown in March-end to check COVID-19 spread.
"A HM failing to discharge his duties during this crisis speaks after weeks of silence, only to mislead people with a bundle of lies! Ironically he's talking about the very ppl who've been literally left to fate by his own Govt. Mr @AmitShah, prove your fake allegations or apologise (sic)," Abhishek Banerjee, who is the nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, tweeted.
Joining the Centre bashing, TMC MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar accused the Union government of targeting West Bengal chief minister as he said “they cannot tolerate her”.
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said only two trains have arrived in Bengal so far and that too for a particular community.
The state government has spent Rs 1,300 crore for local clubs, but only Rs 200 crore for the coronavirus crisis, out of which most have been used for publicity.
"Two special trains for one particular community have arrived in Bengal from Ajmer Sharif and Kerala. The state government is only bothered about the suffering of the people from a particular community,” Sinha alleged.
The Centre had earlier rapped the state government over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the state.