The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bandh Goliath vs Bus David

Calcutta, Dec. 13 : Public transport will not run. And Bengal will be an island — with Kerala — of almost complete shutdown tomorrow. Citu, the key organiser of the strike, wins the December 14 battle.

There was never any doubt that it would. But from the tussle between an influential section of the CPM represented by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Citu, the party’s labour arm, two indications have emerged pointing to changing attitudes.

One, and the more important one, is Citu’s commitment not to force the strike in the information technology industry. Legally, of course, no one can be forced to join a strike. But that has remained on paper, particularly in Bengal.

Two, it was decided today that some buses would be sent to Howrah station early tomorrow morning to ferry arriving railway passengers. It may appear a small gesture, but even this much was never done before by the government on a strike day here.

As transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, who is also Bengal Citu’s vice-president, is responsible for organising the transport. Coming from the man who also said today, “it is not my responsibility to ferry IT employees to their offices. We would not run buses for them”, agreeing to send transport to Howrah station is quite a concession.

But the most-watched theatre of the tussle will be the IT sector. Taking no chances, the CPM-led government will provide escort cars and limited transport to boys and girls working in the IT and IT enabled services industry from 14 spots in Salt Lake’s Sector V.

If the employees can reach anywhere near the IT hub, police vehicles will escort them to their offices. With Citu largely in control of bus and taxi unions, it remains to be seen how many techies can turn up to enjoy the escort service.

But industry has taken note of the change in the air, however faint it is. “This is the first time we have been assured of all possible help to minimise disruption,” said G. S. Radhakrishnan, chairman, IT subcommittee, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The hub of IT industry’s brainstorming sessions on Wednesday, too, bore testimony to the changing times. CEOs of several companies met at Webel Bhavan — the base of the state government’s nodal IT agency — in the morning to map the logistics for bandh day in the presence of the IT secretary and officials.

A unanimous decision to treat Thursday as a normal working day was taken “in principle”. Keeping in mind the near-certain absence of public transport, many companies have decided to make their own logistics arrangements.

IT minister Debesh Das, who had a brief meeting with the chief minister, explained the rationale: “There are 30 other public utility services like the IT-ITES sector. So we cannot arrange for any special transport for IT workers.”

Some companies are making more than transport arrangements.

After finishing their shift on Thursday dawn, Wipro’s call-centre employees are expected to retire into a guesthouse on the campus and return to their workstations in the afternoon. Apart from food and accommodation, the long-playing employees can look forward to some entertainment, too.

Some like IBM, TCS and Cognizant have asked their employees not to take a risk but work on Saturday to make up for the lost time. But those involved in critical projects will be given transport.

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