New Delhi: The countrywide strike called by trade unions materialised in the form of protest marches across India on Wednesday, as employees of various sectors kept off work.
Reports of sporadic violence came in from Bengal while in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Assam, normal life was affected in some way or the other.
While banks were open, some services such as cash withdrawal were impacted in many places in the country.
However, work at government departments remained unaffected barring sporadic demonstrations by trade unions.
The strike has been called by trade unions INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, UTUC, along with various sectoral independent federations and associations.
Their demands include a minimum pension of Rs 6,000 for everyone, minimum support price (MSP) for farmers and adequate supply of ration to people.
Incidents of violence and arson were reported from various parts of West Bengal with buses, a police vehicle and government properties vandalised in the course of the 24-hour bandh on Wednesday.
Protesters blocked a major road in Sujapur area of Malda district, set tyres on fire, ransacked government buses and torched several vehicles, including a police van, reported PTI. Police baton-charged the mob, lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber bullets, officials said.
In various parts of the state, railway tracks and roads were blocked. The protesters staged sit-ins on railway tracks as well.
In East Midnapore district, stones were hurled at buses, following which the protesters clashed with police, leading to several arrests, officials said. Several buses were also vandalised in Cooch Behar district by the protesters.
The bandh supporters tried to break past barricades in Kolkata’s Central Avenue area, and police retaliated with force. Several strikers were held, they said.
Railway tracks were blocked at Jadavpur and vehicular movement was disrupted on nearby roads, following which police baton-charged strikers. CPI(M) legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty was detained for allegedly instigating violence, officials said.
Members of Jadavpur University students’ union also joined the strikers and staged demonstration near their campus.
At least 175 local trains were cancelled in the Sealdah and Howrah divisions of the Eastern Railway owing to the blockades. In the Howrah-Kharagpur section of the South Eastern Railway, there were blockades at some places for durations ranging from 10 minutes to half an hour, but no train was cancelled, officials said.
Mamata reacts to strike with anger
Slamming the Left and the Congress for trying to enforce the bandh, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that those who do not have any political existence in the state are trying to ruin its economy by pursuing “cheap politics” of strikes.
She said police will take action as per law against the protesters.
Branches and ATMs of most of the banks in the state remained closed as employees stayed away. Contractual workers also joined the stir.
Power sector responds to call
About 15 lakh power sector employees and engineers across the country went on strike.
Power sector employees are protesting against the Centre’s proposed amendments to the Electricity Act as well as other privatisation policies of the government, which they say are against the interest of the consumers and employees.
They are also demanding implementation of old pension scheme for all employees.
“About 1.5 million power sector employees and engineers, including 25,000 in UP, are on the boycott/strike which is a success,” Chairman of All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF), Shailendra Dubey told PTI.
The strike evoked a mixed response in BJP-ruled Tripura where banks and offices of financial institutions remained shut in most places, even as train services and vehicles operated as usual.
Shops and markets remained open in most parts of the state and attendance in majority of government offices, including the civil secretariat, were near normal.
The CITU’s Tripura unit secretary Shankar Prasad Datta said people have supported the bandh spontaneously and the union was not picketing to enforce the strike anywhere.
A total General Strike in Tripura took the shape of a Bandh with spontaneous support of the people. A few of the numerous pictures. pic.twitter.com/6PTRbSQbb3
— Rahul Sinha (@RahulSinhaddk) January 8, 2020
Leaders of the Congress, CPI and CPM were taken into custody as they staged a sit-in protest on the highway outside the RTC bus station in Vijayawada.
Reports said employees stayed off duties in various public sector undertakings, mostly in Visakhapatnam. Most of the banks remained shut.
Rallies were taken out by the Left parties and trade unions in major towns and cities of Andhra Pradesh, opposing the policies being adopted by the Central government. In Vijayawada, a rally was taken out from Radham Centre to Lenin Centre. CPI state secretary K Ramakrishna condemned his arrest and that of CPM and Congress leaders in Vijayawada.
All India strike of central trade union today at Bhubaneswar demonstration led by Dr Rckhuntia and other central trade union leaders pic.twitter.com/hxlGgUmKqe
— DR. Ramachandra Khuntia (@rckhuntia) January 8, 2020
The call evoked a mixed response in Rajasthan during morning hours on Wednesday.
Banking and roadways services were partially affected as members of trade unions joined the strike. A demonstration was held in front of the LIC Building in Jaipur.
Members of the banking sector and LIC participated in the demonstration, Mahesh Mishra, a representative of bank employees union, said.
Protesters resorted to blocking roads and squatting on rails tracks at a few places and also took out processions against the Central government in support of their demands in Punjab, the police said.
With the state roadways employees joining the nationwide strike, buses remained off road at several places including Amritsar, Nawanshahr, Ludhiana, Roopnagar and Kapurthala in Punjab, causing inconvenience to passengers.
Though a faction of Haryana Roadways had announced to join the strike, public transport services were not affected much, barring a few places including Sirsa and Hisar.
At some bus depots in Haryana, the police ensured protesters do not disrupt plying of buses.
Heavy police force was deployed at several bus depots in Haryana and Punjab to ensure smooth movement of buses, officials said.
The industrial areas of Mayapuri and Wazirabad witnessed protest marches.
At the ITO, workers affiliated to left unions gathered in support of the general strike called by 10 central trade unions against the central government’s “anti-worker” policies.’
CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, who took part in an agitation at the ITO, said they were protesting against the “anti-labour” laws of the Centre.
“We are protesting against the anti-labour laws of the Modi government, and the labour codes they plan to introduce which are against the welfare of the workers. They even want to sell a Maharatna like Bharat Petroleum (Company Ltd) and move towards privatisation,” she said.
(With PTI inputs)