Scores of trade unions and around 25 crore workers have gone on a nation-wide strike on Wednesday against the Indian government’s ‘anti-worker’ policies. The Bharat Bandh is seeing participation from unions from across sectors including banking and transport.
Largely peaceful, as of noon on Wednesday, workers across several states including Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana took to the streets in protest.
Here are five things to know about the Bharat Bandh.
Why is it happening, what are the demands?
Traders across the country have a 12-point charter of their demands.
The main demand, however, is that the government drop proposed labour reforms. Traders have objected to amendments in the labour law, which proposes to merge 44 labour laws into four codes — wages, industrial relations, social security and safe working conditions.
Moreover, the labour code that was approved in November 2018 derecognises labour unions.
There is also a demand for equal wages for equal work of contract workers and regular workers. They are also demanding measures that will boost employment and generate more job opportunities. They also want a minimum wage that is not less than Rs 18,000 a month.
Sector specifically, bank unions are demanding that the merger of the public sector banks that the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in 2019 be halted. Government employees want disinvestment of central and state PSUs to be stopped as well. Workers are also opposing FDI in insurance, railways and defence.
They also want universal social security cover. The labour code on social security does not include 93% of the workforce in the unorganised sector.
Other demands also include repealing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).
Who all are participating in the strike?
Unions that are participating are the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC). Some estimates say that more than 20 crore workers are participating in the strike.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which comprises of around 250 farmers are also participating in the bandh.
From the banking sector, All India Bank Employees Association, All India Bank Officers Association AIBEA), Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI), Indian National Bank Employees' Federation (INBEF) and United Forum of Bank Unions (INBOC) are participating.
United Coal Workers Union and various other coal worker unions are also part of the strike.
What services have been affected?
With bank employee unions also participating in the strike, banking services have been affected. Despot, withdrawals from banks, clearing of cheques, etc. are expected to be affected.
As per reports, more than Rs 22,000 crore worth of bank transactions are likely to get hit.
While SBI expects little impact from the bandh, banks such as Syndicate bank and Bank of Baroda had said that operations could be affected.
Several shops in many cities have also remained shut due to the bandh. Transport services too have been affected. Public transport services in several states across the country were suspended. In Kerala, private buses aren’t operational and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is only operating in some routes.
While buses were plying in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there have been reports that some protesters tried to stop buses that were coming out of depots.
In Tamil Nadu, textile hubs such as Tiruppur and Coimbatore are likely to be affected.
What has the central government said?
According to a Livemint report, the Union government has reportedly warned its employees against going on strike. An order has been reportedly issues asking workers not to join the strike citing that their service conditions do not allow it.
It has also reportedly asked PSUs to discourage employees from participating in the strike and that workers would face consequences such as deduction of wages and disciplinary action.
Tamil Nadu government too has issued a notice warning of disciplinary action against those employees who participate in the Bharat Bandh.
Any violence reported?
Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of sporadic violence in some places such as Madikeri town in Kodagu district of Karnataka where stones were pelted at a KSRTC bus.
A similar incident also took place in West Bengal where a bus was vandalised. Even though West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not support the strike, there were some instances of violence, like the Rail Roko protest in North 24 Parganas district where crude oil bombs were found. There have also been reports of bombs being hurled towards police in Malda, where the police too reportedly fired rubber bullets and teargas shells.
Apart from that, protesters were detained in some parts of the country.
In Andhra Pradesh, police arrested leaders of the Left parties and trade unions as they tried to stop state-owned buses and staged road blockade on Wednesday as part of the nation-wide shutdown.
Protesters were arrested in Vijayawada, Guntur, Ongole, Visakhapatnam, Kadapa and other towns when they tried to stop buses of the Road Transport Corporation (RTC) from coming out of the depots.
In Chennai too, some protesters who trying to block roads were detained.