KOLKATA: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday denied having called the 'Shramik Special' trains, which ferried migrant labourers back home during the lockdown, "Corona Express", as alleged by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and insisted the name was given by people to crammed-to-capacity trains.
Her comments came a day after Shah, addressing a virtual rally for West Bengal, accused Banerjee of "insulting" migrant workers returning to the state on Shramik Special trains by calling them 'Corona Express'.
He had asserted the 'Corona Express' will become "Exit Express" for her government in the 2021 assembly polls.
"More than 11 lakh migrants have returned to Bengal. I never called the migrant special trains 'Corona Express'. The common people gave them that name," she told reporters.
Claiming that the reason for initially stopping the trains carrying migrant workers back to the state was "misunderstood and misinterpreted", Banerjee said people started calling the Shramik Special trains Corona Express as those with the capacity to accommodate 2,000 people were ferrying 3,000 to 4,000 labourers in cramped bogies.
She said that the state government, which had earlier decided to request for 225 trains, has now asked for 30 more in view of a large number of migrant workers wanting to return home.
"I request all of you not to sensationalise everything. Train services had been kept suspended because of one reason - so that people are not packed closely into a small space as the corona infection may spread," she said.
Criticising the Centre for going ahead with an "unplanned lockdown", Banerjee said the "migrant crisis" could have been averted had the Union government plied Sharmik Special trains to send back migrants labourers beforehand.
"If you (the Centre) had run the Shramik Express trains for seven days and sent the migrant workers home before announcing the lockdown, then these people would not have suffered for three months", Banerjee said.
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.
The TMC dispensation has rebuffed the claim.
Banerjee had in earlier hit out at the railways for sending trains packed with migrant workers "completely disregarding" the social distancing norms.
She wondered whether the railways was running "Corona Express" trains to her state.
Banerjee had blamed the influx of migrant labourers for the surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the state.
"We were successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the last two months, but now it is increasing as many people are coming from outside. The railways is sending migrants in jam-packed compartments."
"We are paying for 235 trains but then why are two to three people being made to sit on one seat? The railways, in the name of Shramik Special trains, are running 'Corona Express' trains. The people are calling these trains 'Corona Express," the TMC chief, a strident critic of the Modi government, had said.