The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farewell eve rough-up for telecom chief

For the top telecom official in town, due to retire this weekend, the farewell — typically Bengal style — has come a few days early. But then, no one is complaining.

West Bengal Telecom chief general manager R.V. Datar is headed back to his native Maharashtra, but not before taking back a first-hand experience of what politics in Bengal can be like.

Datar and another senior BSNL official, West Bengal Telecom general manager (operations) R.N. Panda, were prevented from leaving for their residence, pushed around on the street in front of their office and given an earful by a Left-backed union while they were calling it a day last Friday.

No complaint, however, has been lodged with the police. “Who likes to leave with a bitter taste in the mouth'” Panda asked on Tuesday. “Certainly not our chief general manager,” he added, explaining the absence of a complaint.

Despite the decision not to take matters to the police (apparently prompted by the fear of even more militant trade unionism), the incident has shaken up the BSNL brass. “We seem to have accepted that we will be humiliated and insulted by workers,” a senior official said.

Friday’s incident was the fallout of a showdown between two unions — both Left-backed — the BSNL Employees’ Union and the National Federation of Telecom Employees-BSNL. Only one of them, backed by the majority, has the right to represent workers in the “council” meetings (with the management), say officials.

But with one of them enjoying a majority across the country and another claiming more members in Bengal, this matter has snowballed into a major controversy in BSNL offices. Friday saw both groups converging on the same spot (the 1, Council House Street office), sparking a clash in which Datar and Panda were caught.

BSNL Employees’ Union members were camping in front of the office from 10 am to 6 pm, while National Federation members arrived in the evening, demanding why they were not being called for the council meeting despite having more members in BSNL offices.

The slogans and counter-slogans soon degenerated into a slanging match and then into a skirmish. It was into this that Panda and Datar walked in when they emerged from office and headed for their cars.

Both were physically prevented from getting away. They were heckled, abused and forced to hear out the complaints of the workers.

Allegations about the management being “biased” were hurled at the officials. Panda and Datar were allowed to leave only after they agreed that the demands that were being raised were “legitimate”.

Datar’s office said he would not comment on the issue, while Panda played down the fracas: “We have to encounter such uncomfortable situations throughout our career. Besides, our chief general manager does not want to prolong a controversy, as he is set to retire in a few days.”

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