Kolkata: Eleven deaths have been reported from West Bengal due to panic fuelled by "rumours" of an NRC exercise, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Wednesday as people stood in serpentine overnight queues at the government, rural and civic body offices to obtain and get their personal documents rectified.
At Habra in the North 24 Parganas district, the Block Development Office was forced to be opened at 6 a.m. to cope with the pressure of a large number of people rishing in to rectify or get new ration cards.
The state government had announced that new and amended ration cards would be distributed till September 27.
As a large number of people had queued up since night, "we decided to open the office at 6 a.m. and it will continue till November 27," said an official at the Habra 1 BDO office.
Speaking at a meeting in Ghatal of the West Midnapore district, Banerjee said 11 people had died "due to rumours" and blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the mess. There would be no NRC exercise in the state, she reiterated.
"The local BJP leaders are carrying out a propaganda on the NRC and spreading panic," she said. She has announced that her government would give Rs 2 lakh as compensation for every death due to panic over the NRC.
The latest death was reported from Ghughumari of the Cooch Behar district, where a housewife Arjina Khatun was found hanging in her room. Her family members alleged that Arjina was depressed after she failed to get discrepancies in her Aadhar and voter cards rectified.
Earlier NRC-related deaths were reported from districts like Jalpaiguri, South Dinajpur and North 24 Parganas.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, however, held Banerjee responsible for the loss of lives and demanded FIRs against her. "She has made NRC an issue. She is responsible for all these deaths. She is spreading panic, provoking people to commit suicide. The Trinamool Congress is taking out rallies in every locality and distributing leaflets against the NRC. The BJP has no role in this," Ghosh said.
"FIRs be filed against Banerjee for the deaths," said Ghosh and added, dengue deaths were also being passed off as NRC panic-related deaths by relatives to get the Rs 2 lakh compensation.
A visibly upset S. Ali Nashkar, a Uluberia resident in the Howrah district, said, "I am standing in the queue since 3 a.m. People are in panic. How can one get identity papers of 1969 or 1970".
BJP president Amit Shah during the Lok Sabha polls had claimed several times the NRC exercise would be undertaken in Bengal, along with rest of the country.
The panic, apparently over a possible NRC, is not limited to the districts. The number of people queueing up for birth certificates at the Kolkata Municpal Corporation office had more than doubled over the past few days, said Deputy Mayor Atin Ghosh. "It could be due to fears over the NRC," Ghosh told IANS.
At Ghatal, Banerjee said some touts were making money by taking advantage of the situation. They were reaching out to gullible people thronging government offices in the districts for identity papers, she added.
"I have asked the administration and the police to be vigilant about such touts," she said.
Asking officials to help people, Banerjee said, "If somebody comes to you for his voter I-card or other documents please don't drive him out. Some of them may not have the proper documents, while some may have lost them during floods. Please ask them to file police complaint and then do what is needed as per law."