Soldiers' presence at toll plazas in Bengal kicks up storm; Mamata Banerjee cries 'coup', Centre, Army rebut charges
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee's protest against the alleged Army deployment in the state, earned stinging condemnation on Friday from the Centre which said the remark showed her "political frustration".
Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's protest against the alleged Army deployment in the state, earned stinging condemnation on Friday from the Centre which said the remark showed her "political frustration".
The Trinamool Congress chief triggered a controversy after questioning presence of Army personnel at state toll plazas and asking was it an "Army coup".
The drama unfolded on Thursday evening when Banerjee alleged the Army has been deployed at the Dankuni and Palsit toll plazas on National Highway 2 (connecting Delhi and Kolkata) without informing the state government.
Denying Banerjee's charges, Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar and the Eastern Command of the army claimed it was a routine annual data collection exercise carried out to assess the availability of load carriers at all the major entry points in various states.
The Army on its part strongly rebutted Banerjee's allegations that its personnel were deployed at toll plazas without informing the state government and were collecting money, saying the exercise was being carried out in coordination with Kolkata Police. The Army personnel, however, had left the toll plaza near the secretariat Thursday night.
The Army also released letters written to the West Bengal government on the exercise.
"It is happening in nine states now across 80 locations," GOC Bengal area (officiating) Maj Gen Sunil Yadav said.
Reacting to Chief Minister's allegations on collection of money, he said, "We deny all charges with all contempt."
"Allegations of collection of money by Army personnel are also totally baseless," he added.
The issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament with main opposition Congress too seeking clarification on the army deployment at 19 toll plazas in West Bengal.
In Lok Sabha, Parrikar termed the deployment a "routine exercise not unique to West Bengal" and saying similar operations to collect information on heavy vehicle movement that can be used during national emergencies had last month being conducted in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Along with West Bengal, similar exercise was carried out in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, Parrikar said while responding to TMC and Congress MPs.
The Defence Minister also stated that originally the exercise was planned for November 28-30 but was shifted to December 1 and 2 at the request of Kolkata Police as those dates were clashing with the protests against demonetisation.
The row also echoed in Parliament with Trinamool Congress seeing "sinister" designs behind the move.
The West Bengal CM left the state Secretariat on Friday evening after staying put for 36 hours. Accusing the Modi government of making a "wrong and concocted" statement in Parliament regarding the deployment of Army, Banerjee said her voice could not be stifled by "hatching conspiracy and showing force".