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CM alters tour plan, officials in tizzy

Calcutta, Aug. 11: A last-minute change in Mamata Banerjee’s travel plans to north Bengal left Nabanna officials in a quandary for hours today.

The chief minister, scheduled to hold meetings in South Dinajpur and Malda tomorrow, was supposed to board the New Jalpaiguri Shatabdi Express, which leaves Howrah at 2.15pm. Instead, she landed at Nabanna at 2pm.

Not sure if the meetings had been cancelled, the secretaries, who are supposed to reach Malda tomorrow morning by the Sealdah-Malda Town Gour Express, “did not know what to do”.

“We had been told that she was heading for Howrah station. She had left her residence around 1.45pm. When we saw her entering her office at 2pm, we did not know what to do. We were confused,” an official in the chief minister’s office said.

Similar was the confusion at Howrah station, where the home secretary and a section of CMO officials spent tense moments waiting for the chief minister in the Shatabdi Express.

“They (the officials) had boarded the train…. They were confused when the train departed on time and the chief minister was nowhere to be seen. They sent text messages inquiring about her. But all were in the dark,” another CMO official said.

According to sources, Mamata was supposed to reach Howrah station by 2pm. But when she reached Foreshore Road near the station via Vidyasagar Setu, she asked the driver to take a U-turn to Nabanna.

“She did not speak to any of us while entering her office. She had perhaps called Mukul Roy, who was waiting at Howrah station. She asked him to join her at Nabanna,” another official said.

The secretaries, who were busy preparing reports for tomorrow’s meetings, heaved a sigh of relief when the chief minister left for Malda by road. She left the secretariat in her Hyundai i10, but later hopped into a Scorpio that she uses for her long-distance travel.

The confusion did not end there.

No sooner did the police inform the CMO that Mamata had taken the Durgapur Expressway to reach Raiganj, senior PWD engineers started worrying about the condition of the roads which had witnessed a few spells of heavy rain over the past few days.

“We knew she would not take NH34 because of its pathetic condition. We were not sure which road she would take to reach Murshidabad,” a PWD engineer said.

Tension among the engineers was at its “highest” when they were told that Mamata had taken the Badshahi Road from Burdwan to reach Cooli in Murshidabad. “We did not know the condition of the road. If the road is bad, the department will be hauled up…,” said an engineer in Burdwan.

Engineers have been at the receiving end because of technical glitches during Mamata’s trips. Divisional engineer Soumen Das was suspended after a 15-minute power cut at the Madarihat forest bungalow where Mamata had put up on June 6.

On June 26, an air-conditioner at the Mongpong forest bungalow developed a snag, leading to the suspension of two engineers. On July 9, power supply turned erratic at the Bolpur circuit house where the chief minister spent the night. Two senior electrical engineers were sent on long leave.

Today, the secretaries were clueless about the possible reasons behind the sudden change in Mamata’s travel plans. “She has never taken a train after Trinamul gave up the rail portfolio…. Probably, she did not want to change this,” a Trinamul leader said.

Mamata reached Raiganj after a seven-hour journey at 10.30pm.