After a high drama over “deployment of army” at certain toll plazas in West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee decided to stay put at the state secretariat ‘Nabanna’ on Thursday night, even after the force was removed from a toll plaza near it as per her demand.
“I am the custodian of common people. So I can’t leave them insecured. I will stay put here for the whole night and observe the situation,” Banerjee told reporters at around 1.30 AM.
About her demand that she would leave the office only when Armymen were removed from the second Hooghly bridge toll plaza near Nabanna, she said, “These people may have gone. But they are there in 18 other districts.”
TMC will raise the issue in both the houses of the Parliament on Friday.
BJP’s Siddharth Nath Singh responded to Mamata’s allegations saying, “Jo paisa unhone (WB CM) gavaaya hai, usse sadma unhe hua hai, uske baad wo apne maansik santulan mein nahin hain (She’s in mental distress about losing money). First WB CM had apprehensions about flight being low on fuel, then she related a regular army exercise to a coup.”
Accusing the Centre of deploying the Army at toll plazas in West Bengal without informing the state government, Banerjee had refused to leave the office till the Armymen were withdrawn from the toll plaza at second Hooghly bridge.
On Friday night, Mamata said, “This is a military coup. My officials checked with Odisha, Bihar, Kerala, Chattisgarh nowhere such a thing happened. This happened only in Bengal.”
The army refuted allegations of conducting exercises without the permission, while the West Bengal police said, “In almost all areas of West Bengal army has been deployed without consent of the state government.”
The Army said they were conducting routine exercise with full knowledge and coordination with West Bengal police.
“Army conducting routine exercise with full knowledge & coord with WB Police. Speculation of army taking over toll plaza incorrect,” the Eastern command said on Twitter. “Routine exercise in all NE states. In Assam@18 places, Arunanchal@13, WB@19, Manipur@6, Nagaland@5, Meghalaya@5, Tripura & Mizoram@1”, it said.
“The requisite data gathered and Army has been asked to withdraw from specific point, would be deployed elsewhere tomorrow,” Defence CPRO said.
The Kolkata police, however, said they have raised objection to this Army exercise due to security reasons and traffic problem. “Army exercise at toll plaza was objected to in writing by Kolkata Police, citing security reasons & traffic inconvenience,” the city police said on Twitter.
The drama unfolded on Thursday evening when Banerjee alleged that Army deployment was done in toll plazas without informing the state government and described it as “unprecedented” and “a very serious situation worse than Emergency”. She claimed that people got panicky due to deployment of Army at toll plazas.
A Defence spokesperson said the Army conducts bi-annual exercise throughout the country with the aim to get statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the army in case of a contingency.
“There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders”, Wing Commander SS 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.
The chief minister, however, said “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.” Banerjee said she has checked with other states but nothing such has happened in Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha and Chattisgarh.
“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.