Trade union strike partially affects normal life in Bengal

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(Eds: Adds details) Kolkata, Nov 26 (PTI) Normal life was partially affected in West Bengal on Thursday due to a nationwide trade union strike, during which sporadic clashes were reported in several parts of the state.

The 24-hour bandh called by a joint committee of the central trade unions in protest against the Centre's economic policies began at 6 am.

Bandh supporters, mostly activists of CPI(M)- affiliated outfits like CITU and DYFI, brought out rallies in Jadavpur, Garia, Kamalgazi, Lake Town and Dumdum areas in and around Kolkata, disrupting vehicular movement and asking shopkeepers to pull down the shutters of their establishments, an official said.

They picketed outside Howrah railway station, asking vehicle operators to stop services but a large police contingent was deployed to ensure normal plying of vehicles, he said.

Left activists blocked roads in Central Avenue, Hastings, Shyambazar and Moulali areas of Kolkata, the official said.

Congress workers tried to forcibly shut down shops in Burrabazar area, triggering tension, he said.

Left Front Chairman Biman Bose led Congress and Left workers to block Mallickbazar Crossing in the city.

He alleged that the TMC government in the state was trying to muzzle a 'spontaneous people's movement' with brute force.

SFI activists blocked a portion of the road near Jadavpur 8B bus terminus and played football, table tennis and carrom.

Protesters clashed with the police at Barasat and Belgharia in North 24 Parganas district, Paschim Barddhaman's Durgapur, Coochbehar's Mathabhanga, Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri and Midnapore town in Paschim Medinipur district, the official said.

Agitators hit the streets in several parts of Howrah district and blocked roads briefly, he said.

Bandh enforcers also burnt tyres and broke the windscreen of buses in Coochbehar and Jhargram districts, the official said.

Suburban train services in the Sealdah division were affected as agitators blocked railway tracks at several stations, an Eastern Railway spokesperson said.

Bandh supporters obstructed tracks at Dakshin Barasat, Baharu, Dhakuria, Joynagar, Champahati, Subhasgram and Betberia Ghola stations in the south section and Ichapur, Palta, New Barrackpore, Barrackpore and Dumdum Cantonment stations in the main section, he said.

Banana leaves were thrown on overhead wires at Mathurapur and Hotor railway stations in Sealdah south section, affecting train movement, the spokesperson said.

Railway tracks at Serampore and Chandannagar railway stations in ER's Howrah division were blocked, he said.

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty led a group of protesters to squat on railway tracks at Jadavpur station in south Kolkata.

Train services in South Eastern Railway's Howrah- Kharagpur section were partially affected as agitators blocked railway tracks at Balichak, Midnapore and a few other stations for some time, an SER spokesperson said.

A group of Forward Bloc supporters tried to enter the Central metro station on the North-South line of the Kolkata Metro to prevent commuters from boarding the trains.

They were, however, prevented by the police from entering the underground metro station premises.

Train services in the rapid transport system remained normal, a Metro Rail spokesperson said.

Flight services at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport here also remained unaffected, an official said.

Banking services were partially affected as several branches and ATMs remained closed.

A senior office-bearer of the All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC) said bank employees responded spontaneously to the strike call and work was also affected at the Reserve Bank of India office here.

Operations at the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port's Kolkata Dock System were partially affected but its Haldia Dock functioned normally.

'Around 70 per cent of the permanent and 50 per cent of the contractual workers did not join work at the Kolkata Dock,' Calcutta Port and Shore Mazdoor Union general secretary Prabir Sarkar said.

The strike affected the state's jute industry, with many mills remaining closed and a handful operating at 30-50 per cent capacity, sources at the Indian Jute Mills Association said.

Several tea gardens in the Dooars region in north Bengal remained closed but the strike did not impact operations in the tea estates in the Darjeeling Hills, a senior trade union leader said.

The strike also impacted coal production in the mines of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd in the western part of the state, sources said.

'People are supporting our peaceful protests as it is in their interests,' a Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) activist in Howrah said.

The ruling Trinamool Congress in the state did not support the strike but said it backed the Left and Congress' flagging of the economic issues.

'We are opposed to any bandh as we don't believe in inconveniencing people. But we had organised rallies against the Centre's economic policies,' TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee had earlier said.

The agitating central trade unions, along with independent federations and associations, expect the participation of 25 crore workers in the strike.

Trade unions like Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC) and Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) are part of the strike.

BJP-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), however, is not participating in the strike.

The strike has been called to protest the new farm and labour laws and also to raise various demands, a statement issued by the trade unions said.

Workers in the unorganised sector have also decided to hit the streets to enforce 'chakka jam', it said.

Trade unions affiliated to the Left parties and the Congress had taken out several rallies in Kolkata in the last few days in support of the strike. PTI SUS AMR BSM DC PNT ACD ACD