The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal enters season of strikes

After all that talk about improving the image of the city, it’s time to gear up for the real thing — the season of strikes.

Flagging it off on January 20 will be taxi operators, with the underlying threat of an indefinite strike. The very next day, January 21, a section of private bus and minibus operators will go off the streets for 24 hours.

The taxi strike is likely to be “total”, as both the Bengal Taxi Association and the Progressive Taximen’s Union are partners in the protest over the tax structure for motor vehicles and the government decision to introduce licence and bluebook smart cards.

Bimal Guha, Bengal Taxi Association president, said the strike would continue until the government promised to review the tax structure for motor vehicles and revoked the decision to introduce the smart cards.

Guha said taxi operators would bring out a mahamichhil with bullock carts, cows, buffaloes and handcarts to protest the government’s “over-enthusiasm” in implementing Bharat Stage II norms. “In the name of Bharat II, the government wants to scrap all old vehicles and replace them with new ones, investing several lakhs, without providing us with any technical assistance in upgrading the existing engines. So, let the non-polluting bullock carts and handcarts ply,” said Guha.

The bus strike has been called by the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates against a hike in motor vehicles tax and the introduction of costly smart cards. The Bengal Bus Syndicate, however, will not participate in the strike. The council deferred its strike by a day following a request from the authorities of a prominent English-medium school, who have a function on January 20 that will be attended by thousands of students.

“We have written several letters urging transport minister Subhas Chakraborty to review the tax structure for the sake of the bus-owners, but to no avail. On January 21, we will observe a token strike and if the government does not change its stand, we will go for an indefinite chakka jam,’’ said Sadhan Das, president of the Joint Council, on Tuesday.

The transport minister, however, seems in no a mood to sit at the negotiating table with the bus and taxi operators. “I have nothing new to tell them… Let them go in for a strike and the administration will act accordingly,’’ Chakraborty said on Tuesday.

The spectre of strikes will spill over from the streets to the drawing rooms, with cable operators across Calcutta switching off beam from 8 pm on January 20 to 8 pm on January 21 to protest the “unreasonable” price hike by pay channels.

The Publishers and Book-Sellers Guild, meanwhile, has written to Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee to defer the bandh called by her party on February 3 for the sake of the ensuing Book Fair.

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