Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The BANDH Legacy

Few years ago I had read a short story in a magazine. The story was about a few youths. These youths were all unemployed and they had recently formed a youth organization. One day they were discussing as to how they could make their organization popular. While their discussion was going on, they saw that one of their group members was sitting quietly at a corner and was looking quite sad. They asked him why was he sad. He replied that the girl he loved was getting married the next week and he could think of no way of stopping the marriage. The other group members started thinking of a way to help him but they also could not find out any solution. Suddenly one of the group members, who was sitting silently during the whole conversation, exclaimed, “Let’s Declare it.” The others asked him what to declare. He then said, “Let’s declare an Assam Bandh on the day of the marriage of the girl. It will serve twin purpose. The marriage will not take place on that day and have to be postponed to some other auspicious date and it will also make the name of our organization popular.” The others were impressed and they resolved to follow the idea.

The frequency of bandhs declared in Assam reminded me of that story. Last month, bandhs declared by two non-influential organizations in Assam invoked a total shutdown in the state. The main reason behind this response may be the present violent situation in the BTAD area but it showed how our state is getting crippled by these bandhs. Last week, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi revealed in a press conference that from January 1 till August 30 this year, Assam has witnessed 23 Assam bandhs, 48 district bandhs, 65 road blockades and 13 rail blockades. All these in just eight months of time. What a distinction for our state!

The loss caused by these bandhs to the state economy cannot be fully quantified. According to a report by the Federation of Commerce and Industries in the North Eastern Region (FINER) in 2005, a day’s bandh in Assam costs the state exchequer Rs. 41.14 crore. Thus we can safely assume that these frequent bandhs are causing a substantial loss to the economy of our state.

These bandhs affect every aspect of the normal life of the people. The most badly affected are the traders, small businessmen and the daily wage labourers. These bandhs have a negative impact on their earnings. The low attendance in government offices during bandhs result in a backlog of files, many of which are related to important developmental projects. Closure of financial institutions also affects the people.

These bandhs also have a deep and profound impact on the educational atmosphere of the state. Disruption in the studies cause a loss of concentration among students and due to less amount of classes in leads to non-completion of syllabus, which in turn means the students do not learn all they need to learn in that year. It puts pressure on teachers to finish their chapters in lesser number of classes, meaning which the teacher is not able to devote more time on the chapters. All these just because some organization has decided to make a point by declaring a bandh, which is of no benefit to anybody.

The Assam government on August 29 decided to ban calling of bandhs for the next one month in the state, in accordance with the order passed by the Gauhati High Court in 2010. The bandhs were termed ‘illegal’ first by the Kerela High Court in 1997. In the same year, the Supreme Court upheld the order of the Kerela High Court. The Gauhati High Court passed its order terming bandhs as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ in January 2010.

It is a good step for the time being. But what after one month? Will the same cycle of bandhs continue again? The sane voices in the state need to take up this issue and make a complete and detailed assessment of the loss caused by these bandhs. This has to made aware to the various organizations declaring bandhs. These organizations have to be made to understand that there are better ways to protest and present their points. Hope sanity prevail and we are spared of the Bandh legacy.

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