Kolkata: A question of culture

Written by Rohit Khanna | ROHIT KHANNA | Updated: Sep 29 2008, 04:29am hrs
Outside the headquarters of Samavayikathe state-run retail chain, near Hazra in Kolkata, hang posters with a series of demands, and penned over with slogans in red and blue ink. Their abundance is such that that the walls of what used to be one of Kolkatas biggest retail chains are barely visible now. Some have even made their way into the inner office space. This space is ill lit and damp; the tables are empty, awaiting the clerks yet to return from one of their innumerable tea breaks. Floor assistants are all desperately looking for an opening elsewhere, and are full of stories of a time when the retail chain was actually doing well.

Of the 126 primary consum-ers co-operatives with which Sama-vayika has a tie-up, a mere 13 are carrying out trans-actions with the retail chain at present. The four-decades-old co-operative was set up to fetch better prices for small traders and could have been the states answer to the big players making a beeline for it. But strikes, trade union activity and general apathy have resulted in the debt burden on the co-operative touching Rs 2.14 crore by 2006, with the projected net loss for 2007-08 standing at Rs 2.86 crore.

The state-owned handloom promotions company, Tantuja, with a chain of almost 100 stores is similarly struggling for survival at a time when shopping malls are betting on big returns.

Thanks to trade unionism, West Bengal saw a major industrial exodus in the seventies. Since becoming chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has faced off his partys trade union arm, Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU), on several occasions. He has even said that bandh, gherao are things of the past. What we did in the sixties and seventies wont help us now. We are trying to change the mindset of the trade unions and employees, he told industrialists on an earlier occasion. But that seems to have fallen on deaf ears as CITU enforced a bandh last month, stopping even IT employees from going to work. Recently, the chief ministers comment, personally I dont support bandh. Its not helping us and our country, evoked sharp criticisms from within the Left Front, even from inside his own party.

The state lost 1.39 crore man-days in 2005 owing to strikes and lockouts, amount-ing to over 60% of the national loss of man-days. Back in 2002, all the chambers of com-merce in Kolkata had lashed out against the states bandh culture, saying it was putting the brakes on its march tow-ards industrialisa-tion. The chamb-ers estimated that a days bandh costs a staggering Rs 900 crore to the states exchequer. The intangible loss is much more, with a loss of image pushing away industrialists.

According to Harsh Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty Group, things have changed over the last 10 years. Now there is greater understanding of production and production linked performances. Still, there are pockets with less awareness.

Earlier this year CPI(M) veteran and former CM Jyoti Basu said, Socialism is our political agenda and was mentioned in our party document, but capitalism will continue to be the compulsion for the future. Are his comrades at BT Randive Bhavan and Surjya Sen Street listening