A union leader was killed in Haryana and factory units damaged in Delhi suburb Noida in sporadic violence on Wednesday as the start of a two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions evoked a mixed response with banking services paralysed and public transport disrupted.
Kerala, Tripura and Bihar were among the worst hit states where normal life was thrown out of gear while stray incidents of violence were reported in Odisha and Karnataka. Protest marches were taken out in several cities.
Flight and rail operations remained unaffected in the strike called by 11 trade unions against UPA's economic and alleged anti-labour policies.
Reports from state capitals said financial services were crippled and bus commuters faced difficulties.
In Noida Phase 2 area, workers clashed with factory owners in a hosiery complex and set ablaze vehicles prompting authorities to deploy PAC in the area. Workers went on a rampage and damaged industrial properties, police said.
From Sector 82 till Greater Noida entry point, which is the industrial belt, workers set ablaze a car, bus and a fire engine, police said.
"People just barged in, looted everything in sight and even tore our registers," an industrialist said while another said every single building in the hosiery complex had their windows broken and many vehicles were set on fire.
Life was partially affected in Trinamool Congress ruled-West Bengal with shops, markets and business establishments closed in many parts of Kolkata while government run buses and trams operated in large numbers.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is against bandhs and had warned government employees from remaining absent, claimed attendance at the state secretariat, Writers' Buildings, was 100 per cent.
In the national capital, commuters faced hardships as a section of auto-rickshaws and taxis remained off the road in support of the strike. Bus services were partially hit as a number of bus unions, including a section of Delhi Transport Corporation employees, have also extended support.
The strike call in the country's financial hub Mumbai witnessed near cent per cent participation by employees from banking and insurance sector leaving their operations totally paralysed.
In Punjab, a trade union leader, who was squatting along with a group of workers near Ambala bus depot as part of the two-day nationwide strike, died after being hit by a bus he was trying to stop from plying, a senior roadways official said.
"The incident took place around 4am this morning when Narender Singh, a bus driver by profession, tried to stop the vehicle which was being taken out from the Ambala Depot despite the strike," district president of Haryana Roadways Workers Union Inder Singh Bhadana told reporters in Ambala.
Bhadana alleged that the district administration tried to forcibly ply the bus, which hit Singh, who was also the treasurer of a AITUC union, killing him on the spot.
After the incident, the other workers resorted to violence damaging vehicles belonging to the Ambala's deputy commissioner of police and SHO of the Baldev police station area, police said.
Meanwhile, Bhadana demanded a case to be lodged against the general manager of the rsoadways, failing which they will not allow the body to be cremated.
In view of the tense situation, heavy police force had been deployed at the bus depot and its surrounding areas.
A situation being discussed by police personnels after violence erupted in Noida. Shashank Shekhar/HT Photo
Earlier, however, AITUC general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said that the victim was allegedly stabbed to death by some miscreants.
Many banks were closed and public transport disrupted but the capital, New Delhi, and business centre, Mumbai, were mostly unaffected and financial markets were open.
"We want the government to take note of this," said Akhtar Hussain, vice-president of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, or Indian Workers' Union.
"They think they can turn a blind eye to our demands, but they must know that enough is enough. We need our demands to be met. The government needs to be more serious."
In New Delhi and Mumbai, bus and suburban train services were running without disruption. Some taxis were off the roads but offices and schools were open.
Elsewhere, however, public transport was not running, banks were closed and most shops and offices kept their shutters down.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said on Tuesday that the two-day strike was expected to cause an estimated loss of Rs. 150 billion-200 billion ($2.8 billion-$3.8 billion), hurting sectors such as banking, insurance and transport.
Overturned cars are seen as workers turned violent in Noida during the 2-day nationwide trade union strike. Shashank Shekhar/HT Photo
Central trade unions called for two-day mega strike as their talks with the government failed to reach a conclusion.
Apart from unions owing allegiance to the Left, the pro-Congress INTUC and pro-BJP BMS are also participating in the strike.
The unions have put forward a charter of 10 demands such as urgent steps to control price rise, strict enforcement of labour laws in all places of work, social security net for workers in the unorganised sector, end to disinvestment in PSUs and raising minimum wage to Rs. 10,000 a month.
Eleven central trade unions had on Monday stuck to their call for the nationwide strike from Wednesday after talks with senior ministers -- AK Antony, Sharad Pawar and labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge, convened at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- failed.
Particular attention was drawn to the huge food subsidy given by the government to ensure availability of food grains to the poor through the PDS system.
The representatives were also told about the government's initiatives in introducing amendments to various labour laws.
The ministers said the National Employment Policy would be announced shortly to encourage more employment to women and promote skill development.
A woman wipes her face as she waits for public transport outside a railway station during a strike in New Delhi. Reuters
"All these issues had been agreed upon by the labour parliament, which is a tripartite body, with government representation. But the issues have not been implemented," Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) secretary general Baijnath Rai told IANS.
The strike has been called jointly by the BMS, Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and other such central organisations.
Major trade unions on Tuesday held separate meetings ahead of the two-day general strike called by them from Wednesday demanding redressal of 10 demands.
The meetings were basically a "stock taking exercise" ahead of the strike call, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said.
He said the government was given enough time to meet the demands but it failed to address the issues afflicting the working class.
PSU bank employees strike
Normal banking operations were hit as employees of public sector banks went on a two-day strike in response to a call given by central trade unions to press for wage hike in the backdrop of rising inflation.
The nation-wide strike call has been given by United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), consisting of nine national level unions, including AIBEA, NCBE, BEFI, INBEF, NOBW and AIBOC.
Apprehending disruption in their normal banking operations, many banks had already informed their customers about the proposed strike.
Trade unions stage a joint march during a two-day general strike in Kottayam. UNI
Meanwhile, sources said, banks have taken steps to ensure that public do not face problems at least on the cash front during the strike period.
Banks have fed additional cash in ATMs to meet the cash needs of their customers.
Bank unions are pressing for early wage revision of employees, which they said is due from November 2012. They are also opposing banking sector reforms and any plan for merger of banks.
There are 26 public sector banks with employees strength of around 10 lakh.
In December 2012 also, four bank unions went on strike opposing amendments carried out in Banking Regulation Act and Banking Companies Act, enabling foreign equity in public sector banks.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)