The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Citu strikes, city loses jobs

Calcutta, Feb. 24: Barry Mermelstein and his Indian partner Subir Chatterjee sat in their nearly deserted Purna Das Road office this afternoon, counting the losses.

They had travelled from New Jersey to Calcutta to sew up an outsourcing deal with one of the US’ largest banks for their fledgling company, Fi-Tek. As of now, the deal stands cancelled as the four-member team of the Chicago-based bank cooled its heels in Mumbai, unable to travel to Calcutta because of the strike.

According to Mermelstein, the chief operating officer, the deal would have meant jobs for “several hundred people”.

“We received an e-mail from our client this morning, saying they were advised against travelling to Calcutta because it could be dangerous. We understand that the proposed outsourcing agreement has been called off, at least, for the near future,” he said.

Fi-Tek, which is half-owned by the Purnendu Chatterjee group, was to develop and manage an accounting package for the bank, a task that would have created both IT and finance jobs.

The four senior managers of the bank were to arrive in Calcutta to check out the infrastructure in Bengal Intelligent Park and seal the deal. As part of its expansion plan, Fi-Tek had booked around 16,000 sq ft in Saltlec.

As the two narrated the loss the company had suffered — and the sole member of the team from the bank who has been here for some time complained bitterly that he couldn’t even get a Diet Coke in this shutdown city — the Citu celebrated the “total response” to the strike call it had given.

“The strike also received a total response in the IT sector as we did not exempt it,” said Shyamal Chakraborty, the state president of the Citu, the ruling CPM’s labour arm.

He was right as the majority of IT companies in Saltlec decided to play safe and remain shut. IBM and Cognizant were open, but only just, with a handful of employees around. Business process outsourcing outfits like BNK e-Solutions, Manjushree Infotech and Acclarics, which have to operate 24/7, saw attendance of 50 to 60 per cent.

“We had arranged for vehicles to pick up our employees, but the strike supporters didn’t let the drivers join work. Despite making food and lodging arrangements, the attendance is around 55 per cent,” said an official of BNK e-Solutions, a call centre company.

IT minister Manab Mukherjee said he didn’t receive any complaints. “Some IT companies decided to keep their offices shut, but the IT-enabled services companies operated. And, as promised, we extended all our support to them,” he said.

“All our support” meant providing some car-stickers saying “public utility service”. In spite of this passport, transport movement in Saltlec was next to nothing.

Citu state secretary Kali Ghosh, of course, believes “one day’s stop-work will not harm anyone. Let the IT people work for the rest of the 364 days and develop the technology”.

Fi-Tek fears that its experience will have repercussions beyond Calcutta. “Back in Chicago, they will generalise and argue that if such disruptions can happen in Calcutta, it can happen anywhere in India,” said Subir Chatterjee, the CEO.

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