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Court orders bandh salary slash
- Legal and humanitarian pressure mounts on strike brigade to reconsider

Calcutta, Nov. 10: Calcutta High Court today asked Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's administration to deduct the salaries of government employees found absent without intimation on November 17, November 22, December 3 or any other day of bandh.

Three different parties have called bandhs on those days in Bengal. The court said the ruling CPM also believed in the politics of bandhs, as evidenced by its behaviour in the past.

Justice Pratap Kumar Roy and Justice Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, comprising a vacation division bench, slammed the government for its failure to act against organisers of bandhs, though the Supreme Court has ruled that forcibly implemented bandhs are illegal.

It has also declared strikes by government employees unconstitutional and illegal.

'It is unfortunate that government employees enjoy a bandh day as a paid holiday and the government does not take any steps against such employees,' the judges said.

The court asked the chief secretary to publish within 48 hours a notice in leading newspapers, citing the Supreme Court order and announcing that the salaries of employees found absent on a bandh day without prior sanction would be deducted.

Its ruling, however, goes beyond just government employees. The judges said the government must maintain normality on a bandh day so that 'people feel encouraged to come out of their houses and to go to workplaces without fear. If the government failed to play the desired role in enforcing the law of the land on a bandh day, the judiciary will not remain a mute spectator.'

All the three bandhs over the next three weeks have been called to protest against the recent increase in petroleum prices.

'Through the notification, the chief secretary should ensure safety and security of the people, opening of offices, educational institutions and hospitals and plying of vehicles on the roads. He will also have to file a compliance report before the court when the matter will come up for hearing again before a regular bench on November 17,' the judges said.

A heated discussion erupted in the courtroom after the senior judge of the bench said the present ruling party introduced the practice of bringing life to halt in 1967-68 by calling a series of bandhs.

At this point, the government counsel became agitated and raised his voice. Other lawyers present in the courtroom intervened and objected to the behaviour of their counterpart in government.

In their lengthy observation, the judges also spoke of the financial loss caused by a bandh. 'It will be difficult for the judiciary to stop bandh politics until the general people become more conscious about the consequences of it.'

The judges passed the order on a public interest litigation filed by the All India Minority Forum seeking a ruling declaring the November 17 bandh illegal and directing the state to pay compensation for losses suffered.

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