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Zoo turf war shuts out visitors

Members of Intuc, the Congress trade union wing, forced shut the Alipore zoo for more than two hours on Friday afternoon to protest alleged nepotism in the recruitment of 146 zoo-keepers.

About 50 visitors could not enter the zoo as the ticket counters were closed during the agitation. Neither the protesters nor the authorities lodged a formal complaint. Employees said a turf war between Congress and Trinamul supporters had made the zoo out of bounds for ordinary visitors.

The protest by Intuc, the dominant union at the zoo, was staged on the assumption that a man named Nitesh Singh, who had visited a senior zoo official on Thursday afternoon, demanded jobs for some people, claiming proximity to chief minister’s nephew Akash Banerjee.

During a visit to the zoo last month, Mamata Banerjee had said it was okay for the employees to pursue union activities as long as the rights of the animals were not violated. Party leaders had interpreted her comment as a signal to the trade union wing to establish its presence in the zoo. Friday’s muscle-flexing was Intuc’s way of defending its fief, sources said.

“The zoo is shut on Thursdays and even employees who are not on duty that day are not allowed inside. Then how did an outsider enter the zoo and meet a senior official? Is it because he is close to a relative of the chief minister?” asked the leader of the protesters, Rakesh Singh, the president of Calcutta Zoological Garden Employees’ Association.

“If we find that the recruitment process is not transparent, we will shut the zoo down indefinitely,” said Singh.

T.V.N. Rao, the member-secretary of the state zoo authority, whom Singh had met on Thursday afternoon, said the visitor did not claim to be close to Banerjee.

“The zoo is a public place and anybody can come and meet us. I can give an assurance that the person did not demand anyone be employed claiming proximity with anybody,” said Rao.

The zoo authorities had issued advertisements to recruit zoo-keepers, who are responsible for the care of animals, earlier this year. “We received 6,700 applications for 146 openings. The candidates were shortlisted and call letters were sent out a week ago. There is no question of out-of-turn recruitment,” Rao said.

Friday’s was the ninth instance in the past year of Intuc members holding a rally and shouting slogans in the zoo despite rules barring such activities on the premises.“We could have told police to take action but we did not want to create a law and order situation inside the zoo. We will talk to the employees and dissuade them from protesting on the premises,” said Rao.