Finger at Bengal for job plan omission

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said no Bengal district was covered by the Centre’s Rs 50,000 crore scheme to generate jobs for migrant workers who had gone back home during the lockdown as the Mamata Banerjee government had not sent data on the returnees.

The Trinamul Congress retorted that the Narendra Modi government had not asked for the details of the migrant returnees and the state’s omission from the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan scheme was part of the BJP’s alleged vendetta politics.

“Across the country, 116 districts have been included in this scheme, but the list includes no district from Bengal... No migrant worker from Bengal will be benefited from the scheme only because the state government didn’t send us any data on them,” Sitharaman said while addressing a virtual rally organised by the BJP’s Bengal unit.

The exclusion of any Bengal district from the scheme triggered a political slugfest between the BJP and Trinamul with both the parties accusing each other of not doing enough for over 10 lakh migrants who had returned to the state because of the nationwide lockdown.

Bengal BJP leaders accused the state of non-cooperation, which they said, was the reason behind the state’s exclusion from the scheme.

Now, with Sitharaman joining the chorus, the war of words is likely to intensify over the next few days.

Within hours of the Union finance minister’s comments, Trinamul leaders got into the act to swat away the charges.

“Did they even ask for any data?” asks Trinamul spokesperson and minister Rajib Banerjee. “Our party has already said Bengal has been left out of the scheme because of the BJP’s political vendetta. We were ready to share data on migrant workers had they asked for it,” he added.

Sources at Nabanna, the state secretariat, said a comprehensive data set on the number of returnees had already been shared with the Union government when the state had asked for trains for the migrants.

“Had they been interested in including Bengal, they could have referred to that information,” said a source.

Sitharaman also criticised Mamata’s decision of not signing up for central schemes like the Ayushman Bharat and the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi.

Although exact criteria for a district’s inclusion in the scheme are not clearly spelt out, the scheme is being launched in districts which received more than 25,000 migrants each.

The Telegraph had earlier reported that the Bengal government had prepared a list identifying nine districts that could have qualified for the scheme based on the number criterion. “We were not asked to share data on migrant workers. However, we have prepared a report identifying the districts which could have benefited from the scheme,” a senior state government official said.

This person also added that the report would be placed before the all-party task force set up by the chief minister with an aim to prepare a charter of demands for the people affected by Covid-19 and Cyclone Amphan.

Sources in the government suggested that with 1.4 lakh returnees each, Cooch Behar and Murshidabad topped the list.

More than 50,000 people each returned to Malda, North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah, East Midnapore and West Midnapore. Around 30,000 labourers returned to Nadia.

In her speech, the Union finance minister also dwelt on Trinamul’s opposition to the new citizenship matrix.


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