HC to govt: Ensure normality during strike

Calcutta, Feb. 14: Calcutta High Court today ordered the government to ensure normal life during the two-day strike called by trade unions from February 20, saying bandh enforcers would have to compensate for any damage caused to property by them.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Jaymalya Bagchi also directed bandh supporters not to apply force on common people to "make their strike successful".

Referring to a 1997 Supreme Court ruling, the division bench observed that bandhs and strikes were "illegal".

"Bandh-callers will be held liable for the damage of any property on the strike days and they will have to compensate for it," the bench said.

The high court order said: "The state government will have to take all sorts of measures so that willing people can join their work or move freely on the strike days. The state secretaries, district magistrates and senior police officers will have to ensure normal life during the strike."

"Adequate police force will have to be deputed in all government establishments, including the high court and lower courts, educational institutions, railway stations and airports. Squatting in front of offices, educational institutions and other establishments will not be permitted," the order added.

Appearing for the state, lawyer Ashoke Banerjee assured the court that the government would take all possible steps to maintain normalcy during the strike. "The state government is against holding of any strike. The government will take all possible measures to maintain normality," Banerjee said.

State Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty said the petitioners had not served a notice on the union. "So, we have hardly anything to say about the court order. Secondly, we have called a general strike, not a shutdown," he said.

The order followed petitions by advocates Idris Ali and Ramaprasad Sarkar, demanding a directive declaring the strike illegal. The petitioners also sought an order asking the unions to withdraw the strike.

Twelve trade unions have called a countrywide strike from February 20 to protest "anti-people policies" of the UPA government, including price rise and "poor implementation" of labour laws. The unions are also protesting disinvestment in public sector units and FDI.

In Bengal, the CPM-affiliated Citu and the CPI's labour arm, Aituc, have decided to exempt the transport sector from the strike on February 21. The Left Front has extended support to the strike on February 20.

Appearing for Citu and Aituc, advocate Subrata Mukhopadhyay opposed the prayer and said: "To call a strike is the fundamental right of the trade unions. We have appealed to the people to join the strike and support our movement. There is no question of applying force."

The division bench said in its order: "If to observe a bandh is the fundamental right of trade union bodies, the general people also have the right to free movement, expression and speech. Article 19 of the Constitution has given this right to the people."

On November 13, 1997, the Supreme Court had declared forced bandhs "illegal" while upholding a Kerala High Court order.

The apex court had observed that a bandh could not be enforced as it would affect the fundamental rights of citizens and cause national loss.

A Calcutta High Court bench had in 1998 declared illegal a bandh called by the then ruling Left Front.

Since then, the high court has passed several orders in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, directing bandh-callers to allow people to work.

In the 2004 order, passed by a division bench headed by former Justice A.N. Roy, the court had said the judiciary was "helpless" as it could not take steps against the bandh-enforcers.

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