Army presence at toll plazas stirs row, Mamata spends 30 hrs at secretariat


Kolkata/New Delhi: The presence of army personnel at toll plazas in West Bengal triggered a row with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remaining at the state secretariat overnight in protest. The CM finally left the building on Friday evening, after spending almost 30 hours in her office.

“I have great respect for the Army but why are they being used for political vendetta? This is wrong,” Mamata said, wonder if it was an ‘army coup’ against her government.

Her remarks had drawn stinging condemnation from the Centre which said the remark showed her “political frustration”.

The row echoed in Parliament on Friday with Trinamool Congress seeing “sinister” designs behind the move and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar vehemently denying the charge, saying it was a routine exercise. Parrikar also said it was very unfortunate that army has been dragged into an “unnecessary controversy”.

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 last night.

TMC MLAs and ministers also staged a dharna outside Raj Bhavan in Kolkata.

Banerjee left the state secretariat in the evening after she spent over 24 hours and fired a fresh salvo at the Modi government.

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”.

Banerjee also said the state government will take legal recourse if there is no withdrawal of army personnel from all toll plazas in the state.

Speaking to reporters late last night at ‘Nabanna’, the state secretariat in Kolkata, she said, “I will stay at the secretariat to guard our democracy”.

“Is this a military coup?” she asked.

She said that army personnel were there in different districts like Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, North 24 Paragans, Burdwan, Howrah, Hooghly etc.

“The army is deployed without informing the state government. This is unprecedented and a very serious matter.”

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.