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Silence of the streets
- 70% shops down shutters as commuters face bus scarcity during strike

Feb. 20: The hustle and bustle of the busy city streets came to a standstill as 70 per cent of the shops and business establishments remained closed on the first day of the two-day nationwide general strike called by central trade unions.

While schools and offices remained open, a majority of the city buses remained off the streets, thereby causing immense difficulty for commuters.

Most business establishments remained closed, with the exception of a few shops in some localities. However, people were relieved that the pharmacies were open.

Altogether 11 trade unions had called the general strike, demanding that the Delhi and Dispur take immediate measures to address their long-standing demands which include proper implementation of the existing labour laws of the country, retaining of the public sector enterprises to provide job security to the people, taking appropriate measures to contain price rise of essential commodities, providing every person with 35kg of rice at the rate of Rs 2 per kg under the public distribution system, introduction of land reforms for landless farmers and setting up cold storages in every block for farmers.

The unions also demanded that the Centre make it mandatory for all employers to pay a minimum monthly wage of Rs 10,000 to workers in the unorganised sector, who do not get any allowance from the company. “Seventy per cent of the traders here have extended full support to the two-day nationwide strike called by us today and tomorrow. Even the city bus and auto-rickshaw associations have extended their support. If we do not receive any response from the central government, we may organise a mass movement,” said Tapan Sarma, the state secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

“Well, most shops in this area are closed because of the strike, but we have kept open one of our two shops, as losing two days’ worth of business is a huge loss. Since morning we have received a few customers and we even sold one or two goods from the shop, the shutters of which we are keeping closed today,” said Anil Das, the salesman at a shop selling stationery items at Paltan Bazar. “I earn my living by selling fruits on the footpath and I cannot afford to lose business for two days. The big shops can afford to be closed, but vendors like us cannot,” said Sapan Singh, a fruitseller at Rehabari. However, many people who had no vehicles of their own and depended hugely on public transport were at a fix when they arrived at the bus stop to board their regular city bus to their workplace and instead, found the street to be free of the usual heavy traffic.

“I got late for my office by half-an-hour as I kept waiting at the bus stop at Dispur for a long time. Finally, I had to take an auto-rickshaw and he charged me Rs 170 from Dispur to Ulubari. And I was not in a position to bargain as there was no other auto-rickshaw close at hand,” said Amiya Khanikar, a professional.