Road communications between Dhaka and Rajshahi via Natore remained suspended yesterday as the transport workers of Natore began a 48-hour strike all of a sudden over an allegation, which turned out to be unfounded.
As the strike began at 6:00am, groups of transport workers took position at various points of Natore-Dhaka highway in Natore, and they barred buses from entering or leaving Natore. They stopped Dhaka-bound coaches from Rajshahi and forced its passengers to get down.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Natore Transport Workers' Union President Akram Hossain claimed that they called the strike following a dispute with their counterparts in Rajshahi.
“We have a long-running dispute with transport union leaders of Rajshahi over frequent harassment of our workers when they go to Rajshahi. Recently, Rajshahi's transport workers beat up a bus helper of Natore called Rubel,” he said. “We could not stop the harassment even after our talks with police.”
Joint Secretary of Rajshahi Bus Owners Association Safqat Manjur said the transport workers did not call the strike following the normal procedure. “They went to some bus counters in Natore Wednesday night and asked them not to operate any coach in the morning,” he said.
In the morning, the transport workers stopped a Dhaka-bound bus of National Travels at Natore bus terminal around 6:00am, and forced the passengers to get off, saying they would not let buses pass Natore, said Safqat. “Since the incident, we are not letting any bus leave Rajshahi until we get a clearance,” he said.
When contacted, Kamal Hossain Robi, president of the transport union in Rajshahi, said he was unaware of any dispute as claimed by Natore transport leader Akram. “I did not hear about any act of harassment of transport workers in recent months,” he said.
He said he suspects that some transport leaders of Natore who are loyal to the ruling party might have called the strike to foil opposition alliance Jatiya Oikyafront's rally in Rajshahi today.
When asked, Natore's Superintendent of Police Biplob Bijoy Talukder said the strike was called over a “feud” with Rajshahi transport workers.
When the SP was told that Rajshahi transport leaders were unaware about any “dispute” with their Natore counterparts, he said, “We didn't inquire about the reason they called the strike. We requested them to withdraw the strike.”
Meanwhile, the strike caused sufferings to the travellers of different routes from Natore and Rajshahi, and passengers questioned the legitimacy of the strike. “Why are the law enforcement agencies silent? They can't call a strike without any notice,” said Rezaul Karim, a passenger, who returned home from Natore bus terminal after being forced to get off.
Selim Hossain, another passenger, said he purchased a ticket of a Dhaka coach Wednesday night, and he learnt about the strike when he went to catch the bus in the morning.
Our Natore Correspondent Bulbul Ahmed contributed to this report.