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Strike evokes mixed response in Bengal

Posted on Feb 20, 08:21PM | IANS

Kolkata, Feb 20 : A two-day nationwide strike-call by 11 central trade unions to press a ten-point charter of demands evoked mixed response in West Bengal Wednesday with reports of stray incidents of forcible enforcement of the strike.

At least 30 persons have been arrested from the city, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed people have rejected the strike call.

"So far we have arrested 30 persons from around the city for trying to forcibly enforce the strike," Joint Commissioner, city police, Jawed Shamim said.

"Everything is normal. Enough police arrangement is there," said city Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha.

There were also reports of arrests from other parts of the state, but no major incident of violence has been reported so far.

A bus was damaged by strike supporters at Raiganj in North Dinajpur district.

While flight services were normal, there were minor disruptions in train movement. However, roads largely looked deserted as vehicles, including buses and taxis, went off the roads around the state.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took a trip around the city, meeting police and administrative officers in her endeavour to keep the city insulated from the effects of the strike.

Attendance was normal in state government offices, particularly the state secretariat Writers' Buildings, with many employees staying overnight at their offices in anticipation of trouble in reaching their workplace Wednesday.

Banerjee claimed attendance at Writers' Building was almost "100 percent".

"People have rejected the strike," she said.

Private schools declared unofficial holidays, while attendance was thin in other educational institutions.

Banking services have been crippled, but most municipal markets remained open, while shops were shut in many areas.

Sources at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport said all flights operated as per schedule, and that there were no cancellations.

An Air India spokesman said: "The passenger load is more or less as per booking. May be, in some sectors there is a marginal drop".

The Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government has declared it will not allow strikes in the state, as it caused heavy financial and economic losses.

It had earlier issued a notification declaring that all government offices should remain open and all government employees should report to work on the days of the strike. Police urged people Monday to stick to normal schedules, over handheld mikes.

A South Eastern Railway spokesman said train services on almost all sections were normal, though some trains had to be halted due to agitations at Balasore and Jaleswar in Odisha.

Strike supporters disrupted services at one station on the Eastern Railway route, said an Eastern Railway spokesman.

However, people who arrived in Kolkata on trains and flights faced problems once they stepped into the metropolis. Taxis and auto-rickshaws largely remained off the roads. Very few private buses and mini buses hit the streets, while state-run buses were irregular.

But public vehicles got very few passengers.

"Almost the entire bus was empty. And roads were free of traffic jams. The situation was strikingly different from normal office days, when roads are choc-a-bloc with people," said a state government employee who attended office.

At Midnapore town, headquarters of West Midnapore district, shops and markets remained closed in some pockets, while only a few buses and autos plied.

"But I did not see any picketing by the strike supporters, which is a departure from the scene we have seen during past strikes," said R. Dutta, a state government employee in Midnapore.

Employees belonging to unions supporting the strikes picketed at the gates of state-run banks, which were shut.