India: Mamata Banerjee refuses to leave office until army clears off toll booths
The chief minister of India's eastern state of West Bengal has announced that she will stay at the Nabanna building which houses the state secretariat until the army withdraws from the two toll plazas in the state.
On Thursday, Mamata Banerjee said that in an "unprecedented and a serious matter" the army had been deployed at two toll plazas on the national highway at Palsit and Dankuni towns without informing the state government.
"This is a very serious situation worse than Emergency," she told reporters at the state secretariat.
"Very unfortunate. Army stationed in front of Nabanna, the Bengal State Secretariat in a high security zone, inspite of police objection. I am waiting here at the Secretariat and watching, to guard our democracy," she further announced at a media briefing held at 10 pm local time on Thursday.
"Is this a military coup? I gathered information whether such exercises were held in Maharashtra, Odisha and Kerala. I was told that no such exercises have taken place in their states," added Banerjee.
The Army Eastern Command Headquarters have, however, issued a statement saying that it a routine process aimed at getting statistical data about load carriers.
“The army conducts annual exercise throughout the county with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the Army in case of a contingency. For this purpose vehicles are spotted to get basic parameters like make load capacity. The vehicle is then marked so that the next checkpoint knows that the vehicle had already been checked for the parameters. There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders,” read the statement, adding, “This gives an estimate about the number of vehicles that are passing a certain area that could be tapped during operations.”
Sources in the Army informed that today was the second day of the three-day long annual exercise. Some more figures of the load carriers will be noted across different toll plazas tomorrow.
Army officials are now stationed at the Vidyasagar Setu Toll Plaza, which is adjacent to the state secretariat, gathering data on load carriers.
“This is not a deployment. This exercise is taking place under the laid down rules of the Central Government. The police and the administration are kept in the loop. There is nothing to get alarmed about,” said wing commander SS Birdi.
Banerjee claimed that the people were panicking due to military presence at toll plazas.
"It is an attack on the federal structure. We want to know the details. The Chief Secretary is writing to the Centre. Given an opportunity I will talk to the President on the issue. Has Emergency been imposed in the country without declaration?" she said.
(With inputs from PTI)