Com. Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of Lok Sabha, veteran CPI(M) leader and a renowned senior advocate passed away today, 13th August 2018, at a Kolkata hospital. He was 89. Chatterjee was admitted at a south Kolkata nursing home last Tuesday following a kidney related ailment. On Sunday he suffered a heart attack and was put on ventilator support. He passed away at 8.15 am today due to multi-organ failure. He had been in and out of hospital since June-end after suffering a stroke. Chatterjee had celebrated his 89th birthday on July 29, 2018.
His body was taken out from Hospital to Calcutta High Court and kept there, where large number advocates, legal luminaries and others paid homage. Later the body was taken to the State assembly and then to his house in Basant Roy Road, where body was kept till it was handed over to the Medical College as per his will.
Lok Sabha Speaker from 2004 to 2009, Somnath Chatterjee was Member of Parliament for 10 times and was acknowledged as one of its most brilliant members. He has served as Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committees. His death is a great loss to the nation.
Many people had told me that he is always serious and is not easy to deal with. But my experience has been completely different. I had met him several times, when he was an M.P. and also when he was the Speaker. He was very friendly and benevolent and spent time to understand our issues and helped. A few instances will help to understand his helping hand.
The first major issue on which I met him was about the report of the V Central Pay Commission (1996) recommending either closure or privatisation of 7 Telecom Factories at Alipur, Gopalpur, and Kharagpur ( W.Bengal), Jabalpur, Richai, Bhilai ( M.P. – now Bhilai is in Chhatisgarh) and Bombay. All the telephone equipment was being manufactured in these telecom factories in addition to the Indian Telephone Industries Ltd (ITI). Due to the introduction of higher technologies, some of these factories were not having sufficient work. There were more than 10,000 workers, both industrial and non-industrial, engaged in these factories. Closure or privatisation of these factories would result in loss of thousands of jobs as also the entire production of equipment will go to corporates. Hence, me, as General Secretary of the All India Telecom Employees Union Class III (N), approached Com. Somanath Chatterjee, M.P., who was the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee,Telecommunications. Com.S.D.Choudhury from Bombay Telecom Factory, Com. Sujit Chatterjee from Calcutta Telecom Factory along with their senior comrades came and explained the details of the Telecom Factories. He patiently heard us and said to give a detailed letter, which we gave. The issue was taken as an item in the committee and we were also called as also the DOT officers, including Chairman, Telecom Commission. In its sitting on 28th October 1998, we, myself, Coms. Sujit Chatterjee, Circle Secretary Telecom Factory and Pranab Roy, Vice-President, P and T Industrial Workers Union, presented with facts and figures that the telecom factories should not be closed/privatised, but should be modernised and new products should be manufactured. The DOT officers also generally supported our stand. Com.Somnath Chatterjee, as Chairman of the Committee gave a favourable decision on March 31, 1999, recommending the government not to privatise/close and instead modernise of the factories. This saved the factories from closure/ privatisation and new products were taken up in the factories. The role of Com. Somnath Chatterjee in this respect will never be forgotten by the telecom workers and especially the telecom factory workers.
The second incident I want to mention is about the court case filed against the order of the DOT in refusing recognition to the duly elected General Secretary of the All India Telecom Employees union Class III, Com. Moni Bose. On the complaint of Com. O.P.Gupta, who was defeated from the post of General Secretary at the Bhopal All India Conference in 1991, DOT refused recognition to Moni Bose on the plea that he is a terminated employee. Moni Bose filed a case in Calcutta High Court through Com. Somnath Chatterjee. Com. Chatterjee pointed out to the Court that how can the department deny recognition to Moni Bose, who is a terminated employee of P and T Department, while for about three decades O.P.Gupta, a person who never worked in the Department was granted recognition as General Secretary. The High Court gave judgment asking the DOT to grant recognition to Moni Bose as General Secretary. The judgment was a slap on the face of both DOT and O.P.Gupta. The status of Somanth Chatterjee and his highly effective argument helped the union in a big way.
The third incident is about me approaching him, as per advice of Com. E.Balanandan, M.P. for appearing in a case filed in the Delhi High Court against the decision of the DOT denying recognition to the union, after the member ship verification, pointing out the umpteen violation of rules and favouritism of DOT towards O.P.Gupta. Our Advocate Shri Sudhir Makkar was also there. He started laughing and showed his advocate’s coat hanging on the wall stating that the party (CPI(M) has told him to completely concentrate on Parliament etc. and showed the holes in the coat due to non-use. He also told me that it is very difficult to get a favourable judgment as per the verification report. In the last moment, we engaged senior advocate Mukul Rohatagi, who later became Attorney General in 2014. He argued the case. Although we could not get recognition, despite the violations, favouritism etc., OPG also did not get recognition and a fresh verification was ordered. This was partly a success. After the judgment, I again went to Somanth Chatterjee and showed the same. He was extremely happy and told me that it was one of the best judgments we could get in the circumstances.
After his return to Calcutta, I went to his office one day and met him along with Com. A.K.Bhattacharjee, former Circle Secretary, Calcutta and the present All India President of AIBDPA. He was happy in meeting us and asked about the functioning of the union. The office was full of law books as in the case of any advocate. There were many books on politics, culture etc. etc. An impressive library!
Com. A.K.Bhattacharjee told me about how Somnath Chatterjee argued and won an important case in which 13 senior leaders including Com. Anima Banerjee and Goswami were transferred out of the circle alleging political connection at the time when Shri C.M.Stephen was the Communications Minister. All the transfers were cancelled.
I cherish the memory of meeting him on certain other issues also. Always he was helpful. Never had I to return from his office, without meeting him. He will also ask his assistant to bring tea.
Thank you, Com. Somnath Chatterjee! I or my union can never forget you! While expressing my extreme sorrow at the passing away of Com. Somnath Chatterjee, I convey my heartfelt condolence to the bereaved family, friends and comrades!
Red Salute to Com. Somnath Chatterjee!