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Brooms and shoes greet bonus rollback

Calcutta, Sept. 20: Waving broomsticks and wreaths of footwear, state government employees today created a ruckus inside Writers’ Buildings for more than an hour in protest against the finance minister’s decision to rollback the festival bonus and advance for state government employees.

“We are not beggars. We demand bonus as a right. Pay bonus or quit,” shouted angry employees at the demonstration organised by the State Employees Federation of West Bengal and the West Bengal Government Union.

However, the fact remains that finance minister Asim Dasgupta was in favour of withdrawing the system altogether. He told leaders of the CPM-controlled State Co-ordination Committee earlier this week that the government was “confronting serious financial problems” and there were no funds to pay the bonus.

Only after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee intervened did Dasgupta agree to release Rs 100 crore for the bonus.

Sources said co-ordination committee secretary Smarajit Roy Chowdhury told Bhattacharjee that not paying any bonus at all might evoke widespread resentment and send adverse signals in the run-up to the panchayat elections.

Assistant secretary of the co-ordination committee Pijush Kanti Kar said Dasgupta had agreed to release the amount on condition that the employees would make all-out efforts to mop up the 15 per cent additional tax revenue and 20 per cent non-tax revenue this year.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee described the decision to reduce the festival bonus as the “clearest evidence of the Left Front’s economic bankruptcy”.

“The government has halved the bonus. A time will come soon when it will not be able to pay salaries to schoolteachers and municipal staff,” she said.

“They (the Marxists) have huge assets and lead luxurious lives, unmindful of the common man’s hardships,” Mamata said. “Today’s bankruptcy of the state government is a direct fallout of the CPM’s corruption and wrong policies.”

State Congress president Pranab Mukherjee said the Left Front rule has pushed “Bengal on the verge of a total disaster”.

Addressing a rally on Rani Rashmoni Road this afternoon, Mukherjee said the state is fast moving the Bihar way. “In Bihar, government employees are now getting salaries for the year 2000. The employees here are going to meet the same fate…”

Some Front ministers, too, expressed displeasure at the rollback. “We read in newspapers that the government is heading for bankruptcy due to the accumulated loan burden. The finance minister has never uttered a word about the government’s financial crunch at any Cabinet meeting. After all, the Left government introduced the system of paying bonus to its employees,” said a minister from a smaller Front partner.

The CPI-controlled Yukta Committee of West Bengal State Government Employees said the finance minister has failed to honour his commitments.

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