Violence, arson across Bengal as strikers try to enforce bandh; 55 arrested in Kolkata

(Eds: With minor edits, additional inputs) Kolkata, Jan 8 (PTI) Incidents of violence and arson were reported from various parts of West Bengal with buses, a police vehicle and government properties vandalised by strikers who tried to enforce 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.

When police tried to control the situation, they hurled stones and crude bombs.

The police then 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, 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 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, provoking police to use force.

Several strikers were held, they said.

In Dum Dum and Lake Town, clashes broke out between Left activists and TMC members as rallies in favour of the strike and those against it crossed paths. A huge police contingent was rushed to the spot to control the situation, officials 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.

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 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.

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.

In Kolkata, government buses were plying normally but the number of private buses was fewer. 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.

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.

Staff of the Reserve Bank of India also joined the strike.

The All India Reserve Bank Employees Association (AIRBEA) general secretary Samir Ghosh said 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 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 and adequate supply of ration to people. PTI PNT CORR BSM BDC SCH SUS SOM SOM