Kolkata: The Haldia industrial township in East Medinipur district was once the crowning glory of West Bengal’s new industrialisation phase. In 2005 -06, when industrial production had peaked in the state, the township used to provide employment to over 50,000 people. Known as a petrochemical hub, it is also the only township to have a Sataku, or a mini Japan town, embedded in it, with several Japanese employees of Mitsubishi Chemicals residing there.
However, of late, the Haldia township has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Depleting production and reports of extortion bids on the industrial units allegedly by ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders at the behest of its trade union wing, are giving a bad name to the trade union movement in Haldia.
According to some media reports, in the past 11 years since the TMC rose to power in the state, around 25,000 workers have lost jobs in Halida. A total of 30 small and medium, sized production units have closed down in the area, as they reportedly didn’t fall in line with the ruling TMC, allege some report. Recently Exide Industries was forced to close down its unit in Haldia which employed about 1,500 persons, due to pressure from the local mafia, allegedly owing allegiance to the TMC.
According to sources in the areas, after TMC came to power in the state, to fill up its coffers local TMC leaders in Haldia began advocating lowering the number of permanent employees in industrial units. The rationale, allege sources, was that for contractual jobs these leaders could employ people known to them after taking ‘cut money’ (commission) from them in lieu of a job. The state government then had fully supported this stance, sources alleged.
Administrative sources of in East Medinipur district told NewsClick that in 2009-10, a total of 70 factories were operating in Haldia with over 50,000 workers working in the township on a daily basis. The number of workers has now come down to about 25,000.
There have been umpteen cases of companies not employing permanent workers due to the ‘cut money’- driven economy of Haldia forcing them to stick to daily wage earners even to do specialised jobs.
In the past few years, Ennore Coke has been closed, Rohit Ferrotech faced a similar situation, Modern Concast, too, is closed as do majors like Ural Automobiles and JVL. Not only that, there are reports of equipment theft from the closed factory units, such as Hindustan Fertilisers, from where over Rs 100 crore worth machinery was reportedly looted in broad daylight. Recently, an electricity generation company called IPL of the Kanoria group was also closed.
The latest blot on the industrial area is the closure of the factory owned by the Exide group, whose single-day loss has been estimated at over Rs 6 to 7 crore.
Talking with NewsClick on the situation in Haldia industrial belt, Paritosh Pattanayak , a member of the Communist Party if India (Marxist) East Medinipur district secretariat, said after the so-called arrest of two TMC leaders by the police on the charges made by the Exide Industries management in the Haldia police station, infighting among the ruling TMC is continuing . Incidentally, the Exide management had first contacted the state secretariat at Nabanna, after which police arrested two TMC trade union leaders recently .
Commenting on the recent incident, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, the state president of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) took a pot shot at formation of Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress or INTTUC, a nationally non- recognised trade union, saying that it had come into being not because of any struggles but sheer use of muscle power.
“They have never waged any movement on their own. The workers who were leading the strike at Exide were recruited after shooing away bonafide workers from the plant at the behest of INTTUC,” said the CITU leader.
Mukhopadhyay said in order to create “ease of doing business” for industrial houses, any protest march by workers is being thwarted by the police”.