Calcutta HC intervenes to douse fire after Mamata puts fuel to DA stir

The Calcutta High Court has directed the government to talk to the employees to resolve the impasse.

Mamata Banerjee
Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is facing the political heat after several of its leaders have been arrested in connection with a multi-crore job-for-cash scam. File photo.

The seemingly intractable between the West Bengal government and its employees over dearness allowance (DA) may see a closure if the court has its way.

The Calcutta High Court has told the state government to sit across the table with the agitating employees to resolve the impasse over DA amid signs of the standoff intensifying.

A section of government employees under the aegis of Left-backed Sangrami Joutha Mancha (United Struggle Forum) has been staging protests for over two months seeking DA at par with the Central government employees.

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Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that her government will not be able to meet the demand even if she was “beheaded”.

Fiscal issues

She said the state was facing a financial crunch due to the Centre’s fund freeze and pointed out that the state government was not liable to pay DA at par with the Central government employees.

The face-off, however, was notched up significantly after Banerjee scored a self-goal while trying to drag the CPI (M) into a job recruitment scam.

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She claimed last week that those staging the DA protest had illegally secured government jobs during the previous Left Front regime.

Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is facing the political heat after several of its leaders have been arrested in connection with a multi-crore job-for-cash scam.

To turn the table on its political opponent, mainly the CPI (M), which is more vociferous in its criticism of the government for the scam, the TMC alleged that many, particularly close relatives of Left leaders, got jobs through the backdoor when the Communists ruled West Bengal.

Tirade against employees

While targeting the CPI (M), the chief minister dubbed the protesting employees as “thieves” and “dacoits,” deepening the standoff.

Her remarks evoked strong criticism from the employees’ forum, an alliance of about 30 associations.

It staged a 12-hour pen-down strike, crippling government services on Thursday (March 6) to protest the chief minister’s remark.

According to a government estimate, the strike has cost the state exchequer Rs 436 crore.

The forum said the strike was part of a slew of programmes it has lined up to push its DA demand as well as to protest the chief minister’s remarks.

Forum convenor Bhaskar Ghosh said the employees will start sending a memorandum to the chief minister demanding a probe into their recruitment.

“Let her prove that we got our jobs through illegal means,” he said.

Delhi protest

The forum plans to take its battle to the national capital by staging a two-day demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 10-11.

The court’s intervention on Thursday came at a time when the logjam appeared to be spiralling beyond the point of any reconciliation.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam said a dialogue to find an amicable solution to the issue should be held by April 17.

It asked the protestors to depute three representatives to hold talks with the government, which should be represented by senior bureaucrats such as the chief secretary and the finance secretary.

The court gave the directive while hearing a writ petition filed by an advocate, Rama Prasad Sarkar, over the stalemate.

The court expressed concern over the problem faced by common people due to disruption in government services.

“People come to government offices from afar hoping to get their job done. But they return empty-handed. Not everybody is financially capable of making repeated journeys,” it observed.