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When Will Bandhs Be Banned?

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GUWAHATI: Despite bandhs or strikes been deemed illegal, of late there has been a propensity among various organizations of resorting to this process to press for their demands. This is primarily because no Act has been enacted so far banning bandhs. It remains to be seen as to when the government would take a firm step to put a stop to such strikes. For instance, there was a local bandh at the Chandrapur area here on Wednesday; and another 12-hour Assam bandh call has been given by an organization on Thursday over National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Of course, there have been moves to declare bandhs illegal. But, all these have been half-hearted attempts. The file after doing the regular long rounds of tables at the Home Department in Janata Bhawan is getting entangled in red tapism. It is now in the cold storage, to say the least.

The year 2012 witnessed a wave against the bandh culture in the State, including trial of cases against organizations calling bandhs in the Gauhati High Court. The High Court itself was skeptical of frequent bandhs, especially because of the damages that are done to public and private property, besides disruption of people in their movement and halt to all government and private functioning.

The then government at Dispur led by Tarun Gogoi went to the extent of drafting the Bill – the ‘Assam Prevention of Unconstitutional Bandh Bill, 2013’. The government even went to the extent of taking public opinions on the Bill. However even after six years, the Bill has neither been placed in the State Cabinet nor in the Assembly for its passage.

After the change of guard at Dispur in May 2016, the BJP-led coalition government also does not feel like introducing the Bill in the Assembly. However, after receiving opinions from the public and some departments, the government brought some changes in the Bill, informed sources.

According to Assam Government records, if there is an Assam bandh, a single day’s loss amounts to Rs 6,050 lakh, and a total of 17 such bandhs hit the State in 2017 caused a loss of Rs 1,02,850 lakh. According to State Government sources, there were 18 local bandhs, 42 district bandhs, four BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts) bandhs, and as many as 184 highway blockades in Assam in 2017.

The draft Bill says that all bandhs are not lawfully declared valid. Unauthorized private, oral, print or electronic media publicity to/or observation of bandh is unconstitutional, illegal and penal, says the draft, adding that none has the right to paralyze the State by calling bandhs. The bandh callers, organizers and participants of bandh, according to the draft, are to be personally liable to imprisonment for losses and injuries, if any.


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