The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Subrata VRS plan puts Trinamul on tightrope

Calcutta, Dec. 15: Caught between socialistic rhetoric and realpolitik, the Trinamul Congress leadership is struggling to take a stand on mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s decision to slash 15,000 jobs and introduce a voluntary retirement scheme in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Mukherjee’s announcement that the corporation would shed nearly a third of its large army of employees under a voluntary retirement scheme has become a thorn for Trinamul legislators who delight in criticising the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s divestment programme.

“We have read about Subrata’s plans in newspapers. He has not informed us, nor has the issue been discussed within the party. Unless we thrash it out among ourselves, how can we make statements in the Assembly'” said MLA Sougata Roy.

He, however, added that Trinamul would “definitely discuss” the matter. As a trade unionist, Roy felt it was difficult to force confirmed civic employees to opt for VRS.

A section of the Trinamul leaders, however, said the mayor — also a labour leader at the national level — was merely thinking aloud and the civic body would not be able to mop up the Rs 1,000 crore required for the VRS.

“Even if the mayor arranges the funds for the scheme, how can a person like him — who has toured countries as a member of the International Labour Organisation propagating workers’ rights — draw up such a plan'” asked a Trinamul leader.

Mukherjee said he will have access to the money the state will get from the Department of International Development, UK.

Another section of the party said it was high time the leadership fixed its own stand on Mukherjee’s proposal. “We can no longer afford to dither on such important issues like VRS offers to 15,000 civic employees. The mayor should be immediately summoned by Mamata Banerjee,” a senior Trinamul leader said.

The leaders against the VRS plans also said that they feared an erosion in the Trinamul mass base if the proposal was implemented. “We are walking on a tight rope since the mayor unfolded his plans. He may have spoken from an administrative compulsion, but it is clashing head on with our image,” a Trinamul youth leader said.

But Mukherjee, reeling under the burden of an annual pay packet of Rs 230 crore, sounded resolute. “I know I will face criticism for my plans but a political party does not pay the employees’ salary. They are paid from the money the public pays as tax. If I can make it work, we will save more than Rs 100 crore every year,” he said.

Trinamul now appears to be treading on a double-edged sword. One one hand, it is defensive after a “top” leader floated an “anti-worker” proposition, and, on the other, it has provided a handle to the CPM.

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