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Mamata tests court's patience

Calcutta, Dec. 6: First it repeatedly refused to accept the high court order asking it to call off its December 3 bandh. Instead, the Trinamul Congress thumbed its nose at the court and went ahead with the shutdown, using force to terrorise people into staying indoors.

Now, on the eve of the court's hearing, Mamata Banerjee and her party have once again decided to take the judiciary head on. Not only will it not file a report, as the court had sought, it will also not send a representative to spell out its position, almost as though it were inviting contempt.

Trinamul lawyer and MLA Arunava Ghosh refused to acknowledge the court order which was pasted by police on the walls of the party's Topsia office. 'We cannot go to court unless we receive a copy of the order addressed either to the party's chairperson or a general secretary,' he said.

Earlier, taking recourse to semantics, it had refused to accept the order, sent through the office of the court registrar, simply because it had been addressed to the 'chairman/secretary' of the party. In Trinamul, neither of these posts exists, but there is a chairperson, Mamata, and there are general secretaries.

The order had asked it to call off the bandh and file a compliance report. There was, of course, no compliance.

Trinamul today launched a counter-offensive, getting one of its leaders, Tarak Singh, to file a case stating that 'before declaring bandhs illegal, it is incumbent upon the government to restrict the rise in prices of petroleum products' and 'weed out the causes which lead to bandhs'.

Singh argued that if there was no price rise, there would be no bandh. He pleaded before the court to quash the hike in petroleum prices.

Rubbishing this as a 'stunt', a former high court judge said 'an entire state cannot be held to ransom' because of a rise in prices. 'The harm that a bandh does is enormous,' he said. 'How can you punish the people of a state because of a rise in prices' This is no remedy; other ways have to be found to deal with it.'

Legally, argued the former advocate-general of Tripura, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, Singh's case 'cannot be maintained' as the two issues ' bandh and price rise ' are different.

'You simply cannot use one to justify another and this case will not stand scrutiny in a court of law,' he said.

But Mamata continued to receive 'moral strength' from her foes on the political battlefield: Left Front allies. The CPI 'firmly believes' no action should be taken against Trinamul for calling the December 3 bandh.

Manju Majumdar, the state secretary of the party, said: 'We may have political differences, but she has the right to call a bandh and she should not be punished for this.' Ashok Ghosh, the state secretary of the Forward Bloc, agreed.

But, after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee dubbed bandhs a 'disease', CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, who had earlier expressed veiled support for Mamata against the court, refused to get drawn into a discussion.

Transport strike

An association of bus and minibus operators today called a strike on December 15 to protest against the petroleum price increase.

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