Protesters block a railway track in Amritsar during Bharat Bandh call by 10 trade unions. (Photo Credit: ANI/ Twitter )
Banking and transport services were disrupted and life impacted in some parts of the country on Wednesday as tens of thousands of workers affiliated to Left and Congress-backed trade unions led a strike to protest the union government's economic policies.
While ATMs at certain places ran dry and banking services such as cash withdrawal were impacted at some branches of public sector banks, train services were stopped by striking workers in Kolkata.
Buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws stayed off the road in West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha but the strike had almost no impact in national capital Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai.
However, work at government departments remained unaffected barring sporadic demonstrations by trade unions.
Trade unions earlier claimed that around 25 crore people would participate in the stir.
There were no reports of any impact on essential services from anywhere in the country. Train services were unaffected while electricity generation as well as oil refineries and fuel pumps operated normally.
The 24-hour nationwide strike by central trade unions in West Bengal was marked by incidents of violence and arson, blocking of railway tracks and roads by protestors trying to enforce the shut down, officials said.
The protesters blocked a major road at Sujapur in Malda district, torched several vehicles including a police van, ransacked government buses and set fire to tyres. When police tried to control the situation, they hurled stones and crude bombs.
This led the police to baton-charged the mob, burst teargas shells and fire rubber bullets, they said.
Railway tracks and roads were blocked in various parts of the state affecting normal life.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had opposed the strike call, blamed the central trade unions, the Left Front and the Congress for the violence.
The CPI(M) and Congress was quick to return fire and accused Banerjee of instigating violence. They claimed that TMC cadres and police personnel had indulged in violence in the state.
Both the parties pointed to a unverified video clip, that went viral, showing persons wearing police uniforms vandalizing buses.
Malda police superintendent Alok Rajoria said the district police has received the video clip and investigation is on.
In East Midnapore stones were hurled at buses and protesters clashed with the police, who made several arrests, officials said.
The protesters burnt tyres and blocked roads in various areas of East Burdwan district, besides blocking railway tracks affecting train services.
Several buses were also vandalised in Cooch Behar district by the protesters.
In Dum Dum and Lake Town areas clashes broke out between Left activists and TMC members as their rallies crossed paths.
The nationwide strike remained total in Kerala with even a houseboat carrying Nobel laureate Michael Levitt being blocked for some time while it was largely business as usual in other southern states.
Life came to a standstill in Left-ruled Kerala where shops, malls and even small kiosks remained shut, roads wore a deserted look as public transport services kept away.
The strike comes a day ahead of the Global Investors Meet meet in Kochi to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday.
Levitt, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was in Alappuzha with his wife and was stopped by the protesters near Kainakary.
A case has been registered on the complaint of the houseboat owners. The tourism sector had been exempted from the 24-hour strike, which began at midnight on Tuesday.
The strike did not affect the Sabariamala pilgrims and the Lord Ayyappa temple witnessed a huge rush of devotees. Shops, malls, hotels and other commercial establishments were also shut across the state and private and
Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses, autorickshaws and taxis stayed away from the roads. Railway sources said train services were unaffected by the strike and there were no protests at railway stations.
Schools and colleges had declared a holiday on Wednesday and three major universities in the state postponed all its examinations.
The shutdown also did not impact IT hubs of the state-- Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram and Infopark in Kochi but the Koratti Infopark at Thrissur saw around 200 employees being blocked by protesters from entering their workplace.
With the trade unions of the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and opposition Congress-headed UDF participating in the strike, most of the government staff did not turn up at the Secretariat.
Banking operations also took a hit as most PSU bank branches remained shut.
In Tamil Nadu, the strike made little impact as bus and railway services were not affected. While shops and commercial establishments remained open, banking services were partially affected.
Cheque clearing and ATM services bore the brunt.
Traffic came to a halt at the arterial Anna Salai where demonstrations were held.
In Karnataka too, the strike did not affect normal life. While government buses including the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) were plying as usual, train services remained unaffected.
State minister for primary and secondary education S Suresh Kumar said the strike was a total failure. Schools, colleges and business establishments also functioned.
Barring banking services being hit, it was business as usual in Telangana.
In Andhra Pradesh, leaders of the Congress, CPI and CPI (M) were taken into custody as they staged a sit-in outside the RTC bus station in Vijayawada.
Reports said employees stayed off duties in various public sector undertakings, mostly in Visakhapatnam.
Most banks remained shut. Life was affected in the Congress-ruled Puducherry as fleet operators kept buses off the roads responding to the strike call.
All shops and establishments except medical shops remained closed. Attendance in government offices however was reported to be normal while industrial units suspended operations in various industrial estates.
(With PTI inputs)