Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday chaired the 25th Eastern Zonal Council meeting in Kolkata where representatives from four States including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were present. The meeting which lasted for over two hours at the West Bengal State Secretariat was also attended by Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav and Ministers from Odisha alongside senior officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs and officials of the States.
Issues of cross-border smuggling and illegal infiltration along the India-Bangladesh border as well as left-wing extremism were raised at the meeting.
“The Union Home Minister said that Left Wing Extremism [LWE] has almost been eliminated from the Eastern region of the country and efforts should be made to sustain this decisive dominance… He stressed that efforts should be sustained as extremism should not re-emerge in LWE-free States and that these States should develop at par with other parts of the country,” a press statement by the Press Information Bureau said.
The statement also added that the Union Home Minister urged the Chief Ministers to ensure the creation of a district-level mechanism of the NCORD (National Narcotics Coordination Portal) and hold regular meetings.
According to sources, while the Union Home Minister suggested that States should also share a responsibility for security of border areas along with Border Security Force (BSF), the West Bengal Chief Minister said that arms were being smuggled from other States into West Bengal. The meeting also assumes significance as all the four eastern States are ruled by Opposition parties.
After the meeting, Mr. Shah and Ms. Banerjee held a one-on-one meeting at the Chief Minister’s chamber on the 14 th floor of Nabanna Buildings. Though none of the leaders made any official statement about the meeting, the development assumes both administrative and political significance.
The meeting comes at a time when both the West Bengal government and the Trinamool Congress are feeling the heat of central investigating agencies probing several scams in the State. Ms. Banerjee had accused the Centre of not releasing funds owed to the State for several schemes including MGNREGA. The Trinamool leadership has also vehemently opposed the increase of jurisdiction of BSF from 15 km to 50 km.
Over the past few months the Chief Minister has gone soft on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even went to the extent of saying that Mr. Modi is not aware that central agencies are targeting leaders of Opposition parties. The Trinamool leadership, however, has continued to target Mr. Shah over several issues including the role of central agencies.
Speaking to journalists later in the day, Leader of Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Suvendu Adhikari said the Home Minister had told him that he had asked the Chief Minister for land for 72 BSF camps in the meeting.
On Friday evening, Mr. Shah also met the leaders of the West Bengal unit of BJP including Mr. Adhikari at the State party headquarters in Kolkata. Ahead of panchayat election in the State, he directed all leaders to stay united amidst reports of friction in the unit.