The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha & business shut out bandh

Calcutta, Feb. 28: Four days after the Citu-sponsored strike shut down the state, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the captains of industry seemed to have arrived at a tacit understanding — to steer clear of the subject.

The 76th annual general meeting of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) today was the perfect setting for Bengal’s business leaders to express their anguish over strikes and labour unrest before the chief minister. But they chose to remain silent.

“It was a conscious decision of not touching the labour issue,” said ICC secretary-general Nazeeb Arif, who admitted that the bandh was blotted out of chamber president Vikram Thapar’s speech at the last minute.

“We think the government is doing its bit on settling problems and recently it has facilitated workforce restructuring in some member companies. Labour reforms is a central issue, which we will take up in Delhi,” Arif said.

If Thapar played the perfect host, Bhattacharjee took the chance. He claimed that the state of industrial relations in Bengal was “by and large peaceful” and barely touched on the labour issue at the end of his 10-minute address to the members of the ICC.

“Our government has made it clear that violence has no place in trade union activities. We have been consistently urging both the management and the labour force to maintain a relationship of harmony and understanding,” the chief minister said, keeping his comments on the topic to a bare minimum.

Thapar’s speech was laced with feel-good comments about the state. The outgoing ICC president said: “West Bengal and Calcutta have been unfortunate victims of a misplaced perception that belies ground realities. Today we have successes that we can be proud of.”

He also gave a proposal to the chief minister of joining the government’s efforts in tackling this perception problem.

Arif said industry leaders were aware of the government’s stand on strikes and there was nothing much they could change.

“Besides, the issue has now reached the courts. So, we thought it was better to focus on areas like infrastructure, which is going to be critical for the state,” the ICC secretary-general added.

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