Under fire for poor handling of train safety, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the last two accidents in West Bengal on the CPM.
She told supporters at a Trinamool Congress rally on Wednesday that the Left party had engineered the crash at Sainthia station on Monday in which 61 people died as well as the May 28 accident in West Midnapore district in which at least 148 people were killed.
“The civic polls were scheduled on May 30 and the Jnaneswari Express accident took place on May 28. This time too the accident took place two days before the July 21 programme (Martyrs’ Rally),” she said.
Her opponents have accused her of devoting more time to state politics rather than her ministerial duties. The CPM, which fared poorly in last year’s Lok Sabha polls and again in the Bengal civic polls this year, has demanded she step down.
“I am prepared to resign," Mamata told the rally, “if the CPM guarantees that it will not indulge in sabotage… They have been planning sabotage. They are trying to ruin the (reputation of) Railways by letting cockroaches into food. It is time for the CPM to go.”
The CPM, meanwhile, seized upon P. Chidambaram's statement earlier in the day to launch a fresh attack on Mamata.
The home minister, at a meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), had regretted the delay in rescue and relief teams reaching the Sainthia accident site. Use of helicopters or small planes on such occasions should be looked into, he said.
CPM’s Sitaram Yechury asked: “We too have been wanting to know for a long time what happened to the high-speed crane trains that can reach accident sites very fast… The delay in relief teams has caused the loss of several lives. And instead, (Banerjee) is floating a conspiracy theory.”
In the face of the CPM’s latest assault, Chidambaram’s office clarified that his statement wasn’t a criticism of her ministry.
It said he had only expressed a desire that ways must be created to respond more quickly to a disaster. “One TV channel is mischievously reporting his statement as a criticism of the Railways Ministry. Some Left parties also seem to have deliberately misinterpreted it.”
At the NDMA meet, the home minister had said: “I was informed that the first relief team could leave only 2 hours 30 minutes after the accident. The second team could only leave seven hours after … We need to increase our capacity to be able to move disaster relief teams quickly which means perhaps helicopters, small planes. All this would cost money but I think capacity has to be built.”