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Since 1st March, 1999
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Citu stops, Citu starts
Cops watch as red brigade torments

“Now how do I go back home?”

When Kunal Kejriwal asked this of the Citu zealots who deflated one of the front tyres of his Honda City at Gate No. 1 of Calcutta airport, the man who could have helped was sitting in a jeep parked a few metres away and reading a newspaper.

In his passiveness, police inspector Dhiraj Banerjee was as much a participant in the harassment of people going to the airport as the 50-odd Citu strongmen who were on bandh-enforcement duty there.

The only good thing to have happened to Kejriwal and his wife, residents of Lake Town, was that they did not miss their JetLite flight to Delhi. It was cancelled, as were most of the day’s flights out of the city.

As Kejriwal and his wife waited for their driver to replace the flat tyre, the Citu team turned their attention to the taxi that was bringing the Pals from Nagerbazar to the airport. Forced out of the car, Pratim Pal approached one of the 25-odd constables standing nearby. The policeman directed him to his officer, who was still in the jeep reading the newspaper.

Pal spoke to him for a minute before trudging towards the airport with three-year-old son in one hand and a heavy airbag in another. His wife followed, dragging another piece of luggage through the puddles on the road.

From 6am to 6pm, only three flights landed and took off. Some day flights were combined with the ones scheduled for the evening. Some airlines had advanced their flights to pre-6am slots and informed passengers on Wednesday itself, but a few did not turn up.

Citu leaders had called airline offices to say that no flights should land or take off during bandh hours. “In the morning, a group of around 40 activists went to the domestic terminal to ensure that the check-in and ticket counters were closed,” the official said.

Hundreds of passengers waiting in the lounge had to contend with dirty toilets and water seeping in from a clogged drain.

Debabrata Sen and his family came to the airport to catch JetLite’s Guwahati flight in the morning and spent the entire day there. The flight was first rescheduled and later cancelled. “We cannot even return home, as there is no transport,” he said.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose was apologetic, but said the ruling party did not have a choice. “Passengers headed to and from the airport were harassed and we are sorry for that.”


The officer-in-charge of Airport police station, Dhiraj Banerjee, sits in his jeep while Citu activists use strongarm tactics on citizens on Wednesday. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha

Where: Gate No. 1 of Calcutta airport.

When: 9.15am.

Dhiraj Banerjee, the officer-in-charge of Airport police station, is in his jeep and his men — about 25 of them — are a few metres away, watching Citu activists waylaying vehicles and forcing people to get off rickshaws. “Don’t you know about the bandh?” one of the activists asks an elderly man, who looks around for help. Banerjee and his team, however, don’t look like they are going to budge.

When Zeeshan Jawed of Metro asks the officer why he isn’t doing anything, he says it is his prerogative to do what he deems fit. Here’s the conversation:

Q) People are being harassed. Why don’t you do something?

A) Can’t you see they are protesting?

Q) But they are deflating tyres and forcing elderly people off rickshaws...

A) These things are going to happen when there is a protest. I will not be able to help you in any way. They will go away when the protest is over.

Q) But they have punctured my car tyre. They are not letting me to go to the airport…

A) Why did you come out on a bandh day?

Q) So, do you have orders from your superiors not to touch them? You are giving them a free hand?

A) I do not need to tell you all this.

• Flights cancelled: 50

• Flights combined: 30

• Dirty toilets

• Domestic terminal building flooded with rain water

• Unclean floors

• No trolley pullers

• No luggage loaders

• Conveyor belts not working

• Public telephone booths not operating

• Most food stalls closed

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