The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong backtracks, calls off strike

Malda, Aug. 7: Weeks of posturing over the Bengal government’s order to sack 450 casual employees came to an end as the Englishbazar municipality today terminated the services of 154 of them.

The municipal affairs department had issued the sack order through two letters on July 11 and 19. It had been mentioned that the workers had been appointed “illegally” and all grants to the civic body would be stopped if the circular was not obeyed.

The directive triggered protests from the grand alliance that controls the civic board. The Trinamul councillors, however, backed out soon after prompting the Congress to go into a protest overdrive. Leaders of the Intuc — the trade union wing of the Congress — called for a 72-hour strike in the civic area.

As the charade unfolded, however, the Intuc was forced to call off its strike on the second day today. The decision was reportedly taken under tremendous pressure from various quarters.

The civic chairman, Narendranath Tewari, who had earlier refused to abide by the order, was a shadow of his former self today as he admitted that he would have to toe the government line.

“We have terminated the services of all the 154 casual workers appointed this year. I will go and meet municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya as we feel it will be unethical to sack those who have been working at the municipality for the past four years,” Tewari said. “However, if the minister insists they too will have to go in a phased-out manner.”

A serious rift also erupted within the Congress in the wake of the volte face.

Intuc leader, Biswanath Ghosh, whose supporters allegedly ransacked two banks and the head post office on the first day of the strike yesterday, accused Englishbazar MLA Krishnendu Chowdhury of being the root of all trouble.

“It is because of Krishnendu that the municipality is in such a shape. He is to blame for the crisis,” Ghosh said.

The municipality premises saw a series of demonstrations by employees’ unions during the day. Congress leader Bimal Ghosh expressed fears that conservancy and water supply services would be affected if workers were laid off in such large numbers.

Normal life, however, was affected today by the 72-hour strike called by the district commercial vehicle owners’ forum against the illegal plying of motorised rickshaws. Most private buses and cars were off the road.

District administrative officials said work had been hit as only NBSTC buses were available. The attendance in offices, banks and schools and colleges was around 60 per cent on an average, they added.

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