Kolkata: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has written to the Mamata Banerjee-led government of West Bengal, seeking permission to bring back 2,680 migrants from the state stranded in Bangladesh since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March.
In a letter dated 7 August, the MEA stated that 2,399 people want to return to their villages in Bengal through the Petrapole-Benapole integrated check post (ICP), while 281 people want to enter through Phulbari-Banglabandha border in north Bengal. It said it had sent repeated letters to the Bengal government on this issue.
The 7 August letter, sent by MEA Additional Secretary Vikram Doraiswami to Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, stated that the stranded persons are “unskilled or semi-skilled” labourers, and have been living in “extreme distress” under the lockdown, with no financial support.
The Centre has offered to arrange trains and vehicles for them once the Bengal government approves, according to the letter, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint.
“They are all from weaker sections of our society. Many are living in extreme distress, including sheltering in schools verandahs or public parks, and are increasingly desperate to return home. It is not feasible for them to fly home, they can only hope to return if they are allowed to travel by rail or road,” it said.
ThePrint tried to contact Chief Secretary Sinha through text messages and calls, but didn’t receive a response.
However, a top Bengal government official, who did not want to be identified, told ThePrint that a call was yet to be taken on allowing the migrants to return as Bangladesh is a Covid hotspot.
“We need to screen all of them properly. We are handling issues one after another. A few days back, we resolved the international trade deadlock at Petrapole ICP and other ICPs across the state. We will also look into the migrant-related matter soon,” said the official.
In the early days of the lockdown, the Mamata Banerjee government was reluctant to bring back its migrant labourers stuck in other states, fearing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Ministry of Home Affairs had, in fact, written a series of letters asking the state to allow them to return.
The Bengal government also suspended international trade and truck movement at the ICPs across the state, including Petrapole, the largest of its kind. However, truck movement was allowed last month in small pools, complying with Covid protocols.
The state has also suspended air traffic from six hotspot cities until 15 August. It does not allow train and air traffic on the two days of the week when it observes lockdown.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.