The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cat-and-mouse at airport
- Buddha passive, staff forum skips talks table to hone last-minute strike strategy

The mission to project Calcutta as a metro on the move will take a 24-hour holiday on Thursday.

On the eve of the airport shutdown ' and also the Citu-steered general strike ' when asked about his government's stand, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee shrugged. 'Ja hobar, ta hobe (Whatever will be, will be),' was all he said at Writers' Buildings.

If Bhattacharjee's evasive answer pointed at a passive support for the strike, his colleague in Delhi was far more active in his backing of the bandh.

Nilotpal Basu, CPM Rajya Sabha MP and chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on aviation, put the blame of the Thursday shutdown on the Centre for its failure to respond to the alternative plan given by the Joint Forum against privatisation plans of existing airports.

'For a year, they have been sitting on the plan and now the time has come for a historic strike across more then 125 airports on Thursday,' Basu told Metro from Delhi.

Back at Dum Dum, where flight operations could be hit from Wednesday night, local CPM parliamentarian Amitabha Nandi held protest centre stage, pledging 'complete support' for the agitating staff.

Tuesday also saw a large section of the international airport division of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) officers' association rallying behind Joint Forum. Members of the Joint Forum have decided to 'completely stall' the AAI's contingency plans to run airport services.

'We will not allow anybody inside the airport, leave alone those employees who have decided to report for work on Thursday,' said a spokesperson for the forum.

Throughout Tuesday, AAI officials sent feelers to the agitating employees, urging them to come to the talks table.

The Joint Forum refused to respond, busy in a general body meeting to discuss last-minute strike strategies.

The cat-and-mouse game started in earnest with 36 hours still to go for the strike, as Joint Forum members applied black paint on the gates, instead of grease.

'For years, the collapsible gates have not been closed. The authorities wanted to apply grease so that it would be easier to pull and lock the gates during the strike. But we managed to apply black paint instead, to make it even more difficult for the gates to be moved,' said a senior Joint Forum member.

As plans of employees staying back for 36-hour duty schedules through Wednesday night and Thursday were being finalised, the Joint Forum threatened to stop all employees on night shift from entering the airport.

'We do not want to stop anybody' We expect all employees across the country to join hands and go on a cease-work,' said M.K. Ghoshal, convener for the Joint Forum. 'But to make the strike a total success, we might have to use force.'

As hundreds of passengers continued to cancel travel plans for Thursday, the airport premises on Tuesday resembled a pre-poll playground, with posters galore and a 7,000-strong protest procession.

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