Strike evokes mixed response in Bengal
Kolkata, Feb 20 : Amid claims and counter-claims, the first day of the two-day nationwide strike called by 11 central trade unions evoked a mixed response in West Bengal Wednesday with reports of stray incidents.
While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed people have rejected the strike call, the trade unions asserted their call had a "tremendous effect".
Representatives of the unions claimed all economic sectors, including government offices, public and private transport and educational institutions in the state, supported the strike with the attendance being negligible to much less than normal.
There were sporadic incidents of violence in some parts of the state, including Kolkata, as strike supporters and those opposing it resorted to some force.
While 30 people were arrested in Kolkata alone, there were many arrests from around the state amid reports of vandalism. However, there were no reports of any major violence.
Flight services were normal but roads were largely deserted as buses and taxis did not ply in the state. The small number of public transport vehicles plying in and around the city were running nearly empty.
People coming out of the airport and railway stations faced problems due to the lack of vehicles for hire.
Though long-distance train movement was normal, local train traffic witnessed disruptions with at least 10 trains getting detained for nearly an hour at different locations of the state.
The chief minister, who 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, claimed the shutdown was a failure and attendance at government offices and educational institutions was nearly 100 percent.
Banerjee, however, made a "humble request" to the Election Commission: "Whichever party calls a 'bandh' (shutdown) should be banned." The call instantly drew criticism from leaders across political lines.
If the Communist Party of India-Marxist's labour arm CITU described the demand a "result of frustration owing to a successful strike", the Congress called Banerjee's demand unconstitutional.
"If parties were to be banned for calling shutdowns and strikes, then the Trinamool never would have been born," retorted Congress leader O.P. Mishra.
The attendance in private educational institutions and schools was thin. Banking services too remained crippled but most municipal markets remained open. Shops were shut in many areas.
Employees belonging to unions supporting the strike picketed at the gates of state-run banks, which were shut.
An official at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport said all flights operated according to schedule and that there were no cancellations.
The state government, which vowed to foil the strike, had taken many measures including issuing notifications asking its employees not to be absent on the day as well as making public announcements that the court has declared the strike "illegal".
Trade unions have taken a strong exception to the announcement calling the strike illegal and threatened to "drag the Banerjee administration to the court".
"The announcement is tantamount to contempt of court as the court has not declared strike as illegal. We will drag to the court those responsible for this," CITU state secretary Shyamal Chakrabarty said.
Central trade unions including Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) have called for a two-day country-wide strike as their talks with the central government on their demands failed to reach an agreement.