KOLKATA: West Bengal witnessed large-scale violence as irate protesters torched five police vehicles in Malda district and vandalised at least 25 state government buses across the state during the Bharat bandh called by 17 Left parties and backed by the Congress against the Centre’s policies on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who supported the protest but opposed the bandh, accused the Left of indulging in hooliganism in the name of protest. She directed the police to take legal action against those responsible for vandalism.
Railway services and road communications were severely affected as blockades were put up on railway tracks and all national and state highways. Crude bombs were found at two places in North and South 24-Parganas.
Irate protesters turned violent at Sujapur in Malda district. Four policemen were injured in the violence. Police baton-charged the mob, lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber bullets.
In Kolkata’s Burrabazar area, CPI(M) supporters allegedly forced traders to shut their outlets. Tension continued for over two hours in Jadavpur as a group of 300 odd CPI(M) supporters vandalised buses and a police vehicle. About 30 bandh supporters were arrested.
Hitting out at Mamata CPI(M) politburo member Mohd Salim said, “She has tried to save the BJP-led Centre by opposing the bandh...Her double-face has been unmasked today.”
In various parts of the state, railway tracks and roads were blocked, affecting normal life.
The protesters burnt tyres and blocked roads in various parts of the East Burdwan district, besides staging sit-in on railway tracks, affecting train services in the sector.
In East Midnapore district, stones were hurled at buses, following which the protesters clashed with the police, leading to several arrests, the officials said.
Several buses were also vandalised in Cooch Behar districts by the protesters.
The bandh supporters tried to break past barricades in Kolkata's Central Avenue area, prompting police to use force.
Several strikers were held, they said.
In Dum Dum and Lake Town, clashes broke out between Left supporters, who took out rallies in support of the strike, and TMC supporters who were opposing it.
A huge police contingent was rushed to the spot to control the situation, the police said.
The strikers also blocked railway tracks at Jadavpur, disrupting services in the important section and shut down vehicular movement on nearby roads, following which police resorted to baton charge.
CPI(M) legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty was detained for instigating violence, the officials said.
Members of Jadavpur University students' union also joined the strikers and staged a demonstration near their campus.
Country-made bombs were found on several roads in Barasat area of the North 24 Parganas district.
Crude bombs were also found on railway tracks at some places in the district, they said.
The strikers also took out rallies in the industrial belt of the district, including Barrackpore and Sodepur, and blocked roads and railway tracks.
Daily commuters and office-goers across the state had a harrowing time as the number of vehicles plying on the roads was much less than other days.
In Kolkata, government buses were plying normally but the number of private buses was less.
Metro services were normal in the city and auto-rickshaws and taxis were also seen on the roads.
Heavy police deployment was seen in several areas, including in Tollygunge, Behala, Esplanade and Shyambazar.
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.
Till noon, around 55 people were arrested from different parts of the city for allegedly trying to block vehicles, stall government buses or forcibly stop shopkeepers from opening their establishments, a senior officer of the Kolkata Police said.
Flight services were normal at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport but train services were partially affected in some sectors of the Sealdah, Howrah and Kharagpur sections due to obstruction by protesters.
The Trinamool Congress also took out rallies opposing the strike at some places in north Bengal and urged people to maintain normalcy.
Branches and ATMs of most of the banks in the state remained closed as employees stayed away.
Contractual workers also joined the stir.
According to the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), some 28 lakh cheques worth over Rs 21,000 crore could not be sent for clearing.
The staff of the Reserve Bank of India also joined the strike.
The All India Reserve Bank Employees Association (AIRBEA) general secretary Samir Ghosh said the strike was successful.
Majority of the jute mills in the state also remained shut.
Life at Bengal's IT hub Sector V was near normal, although there was a partial impact in attendance in the early hours due to disruptions in transport, NASSCOM sources said.
The state government offices recorded around 95 attendance, a senior official claimed.
The government has announced that no casual leave for absence, either in the first-half of the day or in the second-half or for the whole day, nor any other leave shall be granted to any employee during the strike.
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, adequate supply of ration to people, she said, adding that the demands concern common man's issues besides worker-centric areas.
(With PTI inputs)