Free Press Journal

Soldiers deployed at two toll plazas without telling us: Mamata Banerjee


Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday accused the central government of “deploying the army” along two highway toll plazas while keeping the state government “in the dark”.

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The Defence Ministry has denied the charge and elucidated it was an annual exercise conducted throughout the country for getting data about the load carriers to be made available to the army in contingency situations.

Banerjee, also supremo of the ruling Trinamool Congress, said the Chief Secretary was writing to the central government and she would approach President Pranab Mukherjee to seek clarification over the alleged deployment of the army at the Dankuni and Palsit toll plazas on National Highway 2 (connecting Delhi and Kolkata).

“Army has been deployed in the state without informing the state government. This is a very sensitive issue. This is unacceptable. We do not know anything about it. It has never happened,” Banerjee told the media here.

“We want details. Federal structure has been disrupted and democracy twisted. Has Emergency been declared? We had no information,” she asserted.

She iterated that a civil operation cannot be launched by the Army without informing the state and claimed it was the result of a “political vendetta”.

“What was the magnitude of the incident that the central government didn’t inform the state government? This is a political vendetta,” she said.

Continuing her tirade against the Narendra Modi-led central government, she said: “Is it some kind of planning to start a war within the country? The road is ours and is administered under the state’s law and order although it is categorised under the Centre’s National Highway Authority of India.

She claimed public is being harassed and their vehicles are being stopped along the toll collection points.

“Even if the Army carried out a mock exercise, the state government should have been kept in the loop. The public is panicking. If this is happening in a civil area in Bengal, this could happen in Bihar, next in Uttar Pradesh, then in Tamil Nadu and other states as well. It is a very serious situation and it is dangerous than Emergency. We are facing an extremely black day,” she said.

“I will urge all state governments to look into the matter. A team of Opposition… all political leaders… will meet the president (soon),” she added.

Soon after Banerjee made the sensational allegations, a Defence Ministry spokesman said there was “nothing alarming about this” and the exercise is carried out as per government orders.

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“The army conducts the annual exercise throughout the county with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the Army in case of a contingency,” said the spokesman.

The three-day exercise, now being conducted within the Eastern Command area, would end on Friday.

“For this purpose vehicles are spotted to get basic parameters like make load capacity etc. The vehicle is then marked so that the next checkpoint knows that the vehicle had already been checked for the parameters. There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders,” he said.

According to the spokesman, the exercise gives an estimate about the number of vehicles that are passing a certain area that could be tapped during operations.