Mixed response to general strike in Bengal

Kolkata, Sep 2 (IANS) Train and flight services were unaffected, vehicles plied on the streets but fewer people ventured out and many shops remained closed as the general strike called by the central trade unions on Friday evoked a partial response in West Bengal.

All flights leaving and reaching the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport were on schedule, while an Eastern Railway spokesman said other than short duration obstruction at three stations, train movements continued normally.

“There was no case of train movement obstructions at Howrah, Sealdah and Asansol divisions,” the spokesman said.

A South Eastern Railway spokesperson said obstruction to train movements in neighbouring Odisha resulted in rescheduling of a number of long-distance trains leaving Howrah as link rakes arrived late.

In Kolkata, most buses and mini-buses plied, but there were fewer passengers thannormally as many people chose to stay at home. Taxis, auto-rickshaws and online cab services also ventured on the roads in good numbers.

Schools, colleges and universities recorded thin attendance, while a section of shops remained closed.

Attendance was “more than normal” in the state government departments, as a large number of employees chose to spend the night in office on Thursday, fearing dislocation of traffic.

However, most of the nationalised banks and ATMs remained closed.

The strike was total in some areas like Silguri in Darjeeling district.

“Two hundred and twelve persons were arrested for trying to disrupt normal life or engaging in violence,” said Inspector General (law and order) Anuj Sharma.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) legislator Ashok Bhattacharya and 30 other supporters of the general strike were arrested at Siliguri in Darjeeling district, while 52 others were taken into custody from Kandi in Murshidabad district.

There was tension in a number of areas of the state as the strike supporters staged rallies.

With the ruling Trinamool Congress celebrating the day as “Singur Divas” (Singur Day) with regard to the Supreme Court verdict that quashed the land acquisition made by the erstwhile Left Front government for the Tata Nano project, in some areas Trinamool and Left workers came face to face, but the police stepped in to prevent clashes.

While the state government claimed the strike has been rejected by the people, the 10 striking central unions said the “people’s huge response” has surpassed their expectation.

Speaking to media persons at Dubai airport, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “People have totally rejected the strike, for which I thank the people. This is the biggest proof that work culture has returned to the state. I will reward the government employees.”

“Organising two-three strikes and shutdowns every year is negative politics. They should practice constructive politics. I have told them with folded hands not to go for strikes, and squander thousands of crore of rupees. But they refused to listen,” she said about the opposition.

Education minister Partha Chatterjee, who briefed the media here, said attendance was 98-99 per cent at the state secretariat Nabanna, and 98 per cent in government departments in the districts.

Public transport plied normally, with 2,275 government and 27,000 private buses hitting the roads. Fortyfive launches carried passengers across the Ganga. Factories and business establishments recorded 100 per cent attendance.

“Despite provocation, there was no major incident. Two buses were damaged by strike supporters,” he said.

However, the striking unions disagreed.

Accusing the state government of using “brute force”, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) state President Shyamal Chakraborty said: “The strike has been a total success, despite the conspiracies of the state government.”

“Our demands were reasonable. People have responded in large numbers. They forcibly ran some buses, but 90 per cent of the seats were vacant. The organised gangs of goons tried to capture the roads. There was widespread vandalism to thwart the strike,” said Chakraborty.

CITU state Secretary Dipak Dasgupta said the government actions have violated the Calcutta High Corut order of August 31 that people have the right to strike and force cannot be used to break any such strike.

Chakraborty said across the country, 18 crore people have participated in the strike, while the total strength of the 10 striking trade unions was three crore.

The central trade unions called the strike to oppose the NDA government’s “anti-labour” policies, price rise and growing unemployment and to demand better wages.

The 12-point charter of demands includes opposition to disinvestment in the public sector and FDI in Railways, Defence and Insurance sectors.



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