Kolkata: 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' for the 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." Sometime before her press meet, journalists went to the toll plaza near Nabanna and found that the Armymen were no longer there. A temporary shed set up for them was also removed. There was no official version of the Army about the removal.
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in West Bengal without informing the state government, Banerjee had refused to leave the office till the Armymen were withdrawn from the toll plaza at second Hooghly bridge. 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 S S 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 "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 [email protected] places, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], Tripura & [email protected]", it 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 in the 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. The Chief Minister 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.