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Wall of water stalls bill
- Government halts controversial legislation in time of 'devastation'

Calcutta, Dec. 28: Tsunami, a curse for India and several other countries, has proved a blessing in hiding for the Bengal government.

It put on hold the West Bengal Block Level Pre-litigation Conciliatory Board Bill, 2004, the controversial legislation on shalishi, citing the devastation wreaked by the train of waves in South Asia.

A united Opposition had been vehement in its protest against the bill that allows settlement of disputes outside court. Lawyers' lobbies, too, had opposed it.

The Assembly, which was scheduled to discuss the bill today, deferred it till the budget session in March.

Even yesterday, the government was 'firm' on tabling the bill. Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had said the CPM could be concerned about the bill in the wake of a 'national crisis' because it was more interested in 'narrow' political gains.

Though the government cited the tsunami as the reason for deferring the bill, political circles were abuzz.

Observers said the Left Front buckled under Opposition pressure. One of them added that Writers' Buildings would have to be cautious if it tables the bill in March ahead of the elections to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and some municipalities. The Assembly elections are due in 2006.

Security had been beefed up in and around the Assembly after Mamata threatened yesterday that Trinamul supporters would ensure that the bill was not tabled.

A Trinamul rally against the bill at Esplanade today resulted in traffic snarls in the central business district. Bill baiters also created trouble in Nadia. Lawyers of Ranaghat court blocked National Highway 34 for over an hour.

The government, accused of paving a way to skirt the judiciary, backtracked.

Minutes after the House sat at 11 am, the Opposition urged Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim not to allow the bill to be placed.

When law minister Nisith Adhikary placed it for the 'consideration' of the House, leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee said he requested the chief minister this morning not to go ahead with it. 'He told me he will take it up with the Speaker,' Banerjee said.

Moments later, government chief whip Rabin Deb said: 'I propose the law minister to keep the bill in abeyance till the next session.'

Halim said: 'We should not get engaged in a bitter debate at this time of devastation.'

'We should stand by the families which lost relatives in Sunday's tsunami,' said Adhikary. 'Considering their tragedy, we should refrain from arguing over the bill.'

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