Mamata Banerjee speaks with mayor Sovan Chatterjee and police officers at Hazra during her bandh tour. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh
After a whistle-stop tour of Writers’ Buildings and the city on Wednesday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee termed the bandh a failure and promised sops to those who had foiled the shutdown plan.
She announced a “leave package” for government employees, who had earlier been threatened with a pay cut if they did not show up for work.
“Last year, we had provided continuous leave to the employees during Puja. This year also, I will offer a holiday package to those who are working and helping us restore work culture. I will adjust the leave during Puja,” Mamata said.
The state government had declared special leave on October 26, thus extending the Puja vacation of state government employees to 10 days. This was followed by the chief minister’s decision to include Chhat Puja and Buddha Jayanti on the list of sectional holidays that allows employees to skip work without permission on festive days.
On Wednesday, Mamata claimed to have restored work culture in Bengal, pointing to “100 per cent attendance in some departments and 97 per cent to 98 per cent in others”. She attributed the handful of absences to leaves sought in advance.
“The only state where work culture has been restored 100 per cent is West Bengal and it is now leading the country. West Bengal is the state where you have seen 24-hour spontaneous bandhs but not this time. Attendance is 100 per cent, people are on the road. Shopkeepers are overcoming the fear psychosis,” said Mamata.
Senior government officials questioned how serious she was about restoring work culture given her penchant for declaring holidays.
“The number of holidays has gone up in the 20 months of the present government. During Puja, she announced a special leave in addition to six special leaves to which employees are entitled,” said an official.
Patting the government employees on the back, Mamata wondered why banks were shut. “Business was not affected. But I don’t know why banks are closed. Banks are with the Centre, not us…. I don’t know why they are not taking action,” she said.
The chief minister also promised legal sanction to hawkers for selling their wares as usual on Wednesday despite the bandh.“The party which is supporting this bandh, they cannot even bring a no-confidence motion. I know their guts…. The election commission must play a role… I will ask them… I will make a humble submission to the EC to ban political parties which call bandhs,” said Mamata.
The chief minister had reached Writers’ Buildings around 10.30am, at least an hour before she does on an average weekday. After a meeting with senior officials, she stepped out of her chamber and went around offices, checking attendance.
Her visit was restricted to the first floor. She then stepped out for a feel of the situation on the ground across the city. The chief minister visited Posta, Chitpur, Strand Road, Hazra, Rashbehari Avenue, Behala and Thakurpukur. She stopped at the Behala auto stand and spoke to drivers there.
After returning to Writers’, she pronounced her verdict, that people had rejected the bandh.
A 30-minute break, spent sipping coffee at a canteen on the ground floor in the company of Tollywood actress Locket Chatterjee, followed.
She expressed happiness at the performance of the transport sector.
“I will ask the transport department to help those who ran their vehicles today,” Mamata said. “The Supreme Court and the high court have declared bandhs illegal. The law will take its own course against those who promote an illegal act.”
According to the home department, though no untoward incident was reported during Wednesday’s strike, 204 people were arrested for their attempt to disrupt normal life.