West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on Wednesday said, “Private bus operators are also facing economic hardships. We have decided to allow private buses to ply provided they obtain the necessary permissions from the transport department and district magistrate. Social distancing, including wearing of mask is a must and not more than 20 people will be allowed”.
However, private buses can ply only within the same district.
It would imply opening up the public mass transport system from May 4 to an extent.
Operator unions suggested that more clarity is needed regarding the red and orange zones as a bus may have to cross such zones in its course of the permitted route.
The chief minister, however cautioned that violation of social distancing norms would lead to the permission being revoked.
Banerjee said taxi services will also be opened up gradually in a phased manner. Currently, under the lockdown
situation, the state government has permitted around 100 taxis to operate in a centralized manner, controlled by the police, to address emergencies.
Standalone shops, namely in electronics, stationery, mobile and battery recharge shops, laundry, tea stalls, betel leaf shops and paint & hardware stores, besides micro-small neighbourhood stores have been permitted to open their shutters from Monday.
“However, hawkers and roadside stores are not being allowed currently. We will open things in a phased manner depending on the Covid-19 situation”, the chief minister said.
Industries like iron & steel and construction have also been given permission to operate from Monday in green zones.
However, the lockdown
in red zones will continue to be implemented and limited activity, after permission from the district magistrate has been allowed. In Kolkata alone, 227 sensitive areas have been identified.
Banerjee nevertheless clarified that experts and doctors have opined that restrictions imposed to check the spread of Covid-19 should continue in the state till the May-end.
The decision comes even as West Bengal continues to have the 10th largest number of Covid-19 cases and the pace of new cases has increased.
According to union health ministry data, West Bengal has 725 total cases of Cvoid-19 infections with active cases at 584. A total of 119 people has recovered and 22 people succumbed to the pandemic. The figure released by the West Bengal government, on Wednesday, however, is lower than the data cited by the union health ministry.
In face of the opposition BJP stepping up its attack on the Banerjee government in its handling of the pandemic, the chief minister said that the saffron party is maligning the image of the state by means of fake news and misguiding people.
“I have maintained that I will not do any politics till the situation normalises and ask them (BJP) to do the same”, Banerjee said.
In a recent instance, the police was attacked in Tikiapara in Howrah district – a hitherto red zone. While a probe has been ordered and the police has been asked to take action on the perpetrators, the BJP has given it a communal overtone alleging that minorities in the state have been given a free hand and the police is a victim of this state’s appeasement towards the minority community.
She dared the BJP that instead of talking and alleging about mis-governance, BJP leaders and workers need to go out to the streets to help in efforts to contain Covid-19 in the state.
Banerjee cautioned that she has proof about how many people died during the protests centered around Citizenship Amendment Act and the circumstances but is refraining herself.
“I can also open the Pandora’s Box. But this is not the time to do politics”, she said.
The state government is also bringing back stranded students from Kota in Rajasthan who are facing serious inconvenience owing to the lockdown. A total of 101 buses with more than 2,500 students are being used to bring the students back home.