The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Union blot on Buddha showpiece

For Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Saltlec is a gilt-edged calling-card, frequently used to woo investors. But Monday robbed some sheen off it.

Employees of the Salt Lake unit of Plasto-Chem Private Ltd were beaten up by Citu activists on Monday, dealing another body-blow to the efforts of the chief minister and the CPM brass to rein in militant trade-unionism in Bengal.

One person was seriously injured as the tension brewing between the management and the CPM’s labour wing — over the sacking of six casual labourers — erupted, prompting the management to say that it would wind up its city operations soon.

“We have decided to close this unit and shift base from West Bengal,” said Plasto-Chem managing director B. Shyamsundar. “Pressure from a section of the ruling party and lack of assistance from the police have forced us to take this decision.”

Industry minister Nirupam Sen refused comment. “I haven’t heard of anything,” he said.

The company, which had its manufacturing unit on Pathuriaghata Street, in north Calcutta, expanded its operations by setting up the Salt Lake unit in 1998 with an investment of Rs 1.5 crore; half the amount was loaned from the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. The owners, from Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, said they never thought they would face such “militant unionism” here. The firm, into production of plastic-injection moulding components for the telecom sector and the automobile industry, employed 35 people.

Almost proving the management’s allegations of a CPM-police nexus, the party was working overtime to get the nine persons, arrested for the labour unrest, released on bail, Salt Lake officials admitted.

Among the crusaders was North 24-Parganas Citu district committee member Ajay Majumdar, believed to be North 24-Parganas CPM district secretariat member Amitava Nandi’s confidant.Two of the others arrested, R.K. Daga and Subodh Jha, have allegations of molesting a casual labourer against them.

Trouble started around 11 am on Monday, nearly three hours after Citu activists assembled near the company’s gates. They scaled the padlocked gates and attacked those working inside with iron rods. Bhajan Shah, an employee, suffered serious head injuries and had to be admitted to a nursing home. Employees alleged that the Citu men brought in 30-odd outsiders and ordered them to get off the factory premises. Monday’s showdown followed an October directive from the management, sacking six casual labourers because of a funds crunch, said Plasto-Chem director Swastik Ghulewala.

Several meetings were held with the Citu and CPM, but the issue could not be resolved, said Shyamsundar. Nandi, however, blamed the management. “They violated the minimum daily wage directive of the state government (Rs 89) and paid them just Rs 36,” he alleged.

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