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CIMA Gallary

Police union blow to govt

Calcutta, Dec. 10: Calcutta High Court today struck down a Bengal notification cancelling the registration of three police unions — a clean-up measure falling victim to haste-driven disregard for procedures that has repeatedly hurt the new government.

Justice Dipankar Dutta set aside the January 10 notification, saying the decision was “unconstitutional and invalid”.

“It was based on a policy for which there is no provision in the Constitution,” the judge said. Several units of three police unions had moved the court against the government notification.

This is the fourth blow the Mamata Banerjee government has suffered in the courts in the past six months. The earlier setbacks related to selection of remote-area hospitals for PG entrance grace marks, an order against CPM strongman Lakshman Seth’s medical college in Haldia and a directive dissolving district sports councils.

Haste is also being blamed for the legal logjam around the Singur land reclaim law, one of the biggest millstones around the government’s neck.

The court’s order today came despite government pleader Ashok Banerjee saying that “the government will create a welfare board in place of the various unions to decide on steps to improve the work condition of the police”.

The court allowed the government to set up the welfare boards but said: “The welfare board will have to take action in consultation with the leaders of the association.”

A senior high court lawyer said that although the right to organisation is guaranteed in the Constitution, the government has the power to make exceptions after following due process. “A government has the power to take it (the right) away in certain departments but that has to follow due procedure like notifying the move to the union and hearing its point of view,” said advocate Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee.

“In this case, the court felt the government had acted in haste without considering the right to form a union,” added advocate Rabishankar Chatterjee.

After coming to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee had vowed to rid the police of unions to “depoliticise” the force. The police were given the power to form unions in 1969, after Jyoti Basu became home minister in the second United Front government.

The Calcutta Police Association and the West Bengal Police Association had been state-recognised bodies since 1956. They were not employees’ unions but social organisations committed to looking after the welfare of not only police personnel and their families but the public as well.

After Basu allowed unions in the police force, the West Bengal Non-Gazette Police Karmachari Association came into existence. It is the largest among the three police unions and is still dominated by the Left.

Justice Dutta today directed the government to allow the association members to reclaim their offices and to return their assets.

A state lawyer said the government would appeal before a larger bench.