| Bandh bite: Office-goers pack a restaurant in Salt Lake during lunch hour on Tuesday. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Feb. 3: The 12-hour bandh that brought up the rear of an extended weekend could not stop the march of the city’s information technology army — from its commander-in-chief to the foot soldiers. And with an infotech top gun making the day count, new age business gave a thumping thumbs down to age-old politics.
By the time chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee click-started the new department of information technology at 4 Camac Street around 1 pm, the tech crowd at Salt Lake’s Sector V had already been hard at work for seven hours.
Fear of losing out on business proved stronger than the fear of violence on bandh day as many infotech companies made elaborate arrangements to transport employees before the city came to a halt at 6 am. Most offices in Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec) recorded between 70 and 75 per cent attendance, said G.D. Gautama, principal secretary, IT department.
“In the IT sector, all arrangements had been made to ensure whoever wanted to come to office could come,” stressed the chief minister after his day’s work at Writers’ Buildings.
Earlier in the day, he had spent some time touring the premises of the new Camac Street office, complete with IT promotion cell, conference facilities and auditorium, positioned as a reaffirmation of the government’s commitment to push Bengal as Destination IT.
Bhattacharjee met department officials, led by information and technology minister Manab Mukherjee, at the new address in the city’s swank street. “The new office showcases an investor-friendly environment. The clean look, world class infrastructure and amenities are aimed at boosting investor confidence and comfort,” said Mukherjee.
On debut, the new office played host to a high-profile visitor — Robert Payne, general manager, Asia Pacific, IBM, who met the minister. “We have requested IBM to consider Calcutta for its business process outsourcing activity,” explained Mukherjee.
Payne discussed expansion plans in the city and the availability of cheap real estate. IBM’s three-day managers’ meet, being held for the first time in India, concluded today, undisrupted.
Back at the state’s IT hub, many believed that allowing a bandh did enough damage and to let it be a red mark on calendar could be disastrous. “It is difficult to explain to overseas clients what a bandh is about, so those firms with foreign projects have to find a way out,” explained a 25-year-old programmer with a software consultancy firm.
And the bandobast was elaborate. Those within city limits were ferried to office by 6 am; those who commute by train were put up at nearby hotels. Most were free to leave by 2 pm, having put in eight hours for the day, if they could arrange for their transport. For those attending conference calls, the hours were punishing — they had to hang around till 10 pm, when the US came in to work.
The shutdown proved a boon for the industrious few, like Red Hot Chilli Pepper, the south Calcutta restaurant that recently opened a branch inside Bengal Intelligent Park. A queue grew rapidly outside the 70-seater eatery which, for today, remained open only for IT employees working in the building. Breakfast and lunch were dished out at special rates to make up for closed office canteens.
IT-preneurs are sceptical of how far this surge of activity in the face of an Opposition strike is an indicator of the government’s changing work culture. The truth, they feel, will only be out on February 24, when the Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, will spearhead an all-India industrial strike.