The entire stretch of the Wallajah Road in Chennai, in some ways, evokes the spirit of Kolkata. Walking on the pavements without running into Bengalis engaged in an animated conversation is almost impossible. Dotting the main road and the by-lanes are restaurants serving Bengali cuisine and sweets, and travel agencies with various packages connecting Chennai and Calcutta.
However, these scenes are on the verge of vanishing. Recently, one of the prominent symbols of Kolkata in the city, the Youth Hostel run by the West Bengal government, was closed down.
Bookings for the hostel were closed from April 1 and recently, the West Bengal government, through a letter, has informed the owner of the property that they would vacate the premises by May 31. An auction for selling the articles and furniture in the hostel will be held on May 24, according to another communication received from the government. However, no reason has been stated for the closure of the hostel.
The Youth Hostel that is over two decades old used to function from three buildings and could accommodate nearly 200 persons. One building also accommodated information, tourism and transport departments of the West Bengal government. The employees, both permanent and those engaged through a contract, are yet to receive any information about their future.
“We don't know what will happen to us. We also don't know whether the hostel will be shifted to some other place. Our repeated pleas failed to elicit any proper reply from the [West Bengal] government,” said a temporary employee of the hostel who works for a daily wage of Rs. 196.
The hostel began functioning in Chennai in December 1988 with 24 beds in its dormitory to provide accommodation to patients from West Bengal visiting Chennai for treatment in various leading hospitals.
As the rent was affordable, patients preferred the hostel and an increasing demand led to the West Bengal government increasing the facilities at the accommodation. Though there was a move to construct a building for the hostel in Chennai, the proposal did not materialise.
Ahead of the hostel's closure on April 1, the daily rent for an air-conditioned room with four beds was Rs. 450. A room with three beds was available for Rs. 350 and non air-conditioned rooms with four beds were available for Rs. 250 per day. One could stay in a double-bed room for just Rs 150.
“The lodges in the vicinity also charged less because of the presence of this hostel. As the patients are now at the mercy of private players, the rent is likely to go up,” said a former employee of the West Bengal government, recalling the days when leaders from Bengal stayed in the hostel.
“Barring Jyoti Basu, all leaders including former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would stay here. It was like a home away from home for them,” he said.
While the regular employees are confident that the government would relocate the hostel elsewhere and retain their services, the contract labourers lamented that even the Left front government had failed to secure their future and left them in the lurch.