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Protest blackout on day of joy

Jhargram, Jan. 8: A group of civic police personnel who today came to a government festival armed with a banner that demanded a better deal were prevented by police from raising it to attract the attention of the chief minister.

The civic police personnel had come early and taken seats near the dais so that Mamata Banerjee could notice them. They had brought the banner, hoping they would be able to raise it undetected by policemen.

“But every time we tried to raise the banner, the police stopped us,” said Gour Mahato, a resident of Pirakata who was one of those the government recruited in the civic police force in 2012.

When the civic police personnel finally managed to raise the banner, the chief minister had left the venue of Jungle Mahal Chetana Utsav, held to commemorate the 151st birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

The Opposition has accused the government of “cheating people” by recruiting them as civic police personnel on a no-work-no-pay basis.

In 2011, Mamata had announced that 5,000 youths from Maoist-affected Jungle Mahal would be appointed as civic police personnel. The daily wage of the personnel, who manly manage traffic and crowds, is Rs 141 each.

The demands made by the civic police personnel today included a hike in the daily wage, training, uniforms and work for 30 days a month. The personnel want their daily wage increased to at least Rs 300.

“We are also the police, but we are being treated differently,” Tapan Mahato from Salboni said after the chief minister’s convoy rolled out of the venue.

Yesterday, civic police personnel clad in white T-shirts stood guard on both sides of the road that Mamata took to reach her programme venue in Amlasole.

A police officer said the chief minister “might not have appreciated” civic police personnel waving banners at the programme. “Besides, there were instructions to stop those at the venue from standing up and distracting the chief minister,” he added.

Farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury had been arrested in 2011 for asking the chief minister at a rally in Belpahari about rising fertiliser prices. “We did not want any untoward incident to destroy the celebratory mood of today’s programme,” the officer said.

During her 90-minute stay at the venue, Mamata promised development projects and distributed gifts, smiling all the while.

“I want girls and boys in villages to participate in sports to stay well. There should be no obstacle in their studies,” the chief minister said.

Mamata handed out prizes to winners of football, archery and kabaddi tournaments the government organised in Jungle Mahal. She also announced financial assistance to the 1,734 clubs that participated in the tournaments.