| CRITICALLY ILL: The M. Bhattacharyya pharmacy on Netaji Subhas Road. Picture by Amit Datta
The state government appears to have done its bit to help Citu, the CPM’s labour front, take over a 114-year-old drug-manufacturing concern, M. Bhattacharyya & Co.
Several months after Citu took forcible control of the manufacture and sale of drugs from the owners, following their decision to announce a suspension of work, the state drugs control directorate has slapped a showcause notice on the owners — who have no control over their firm — for manufacturing drugs illegally.
“This is very strange,” said M. Bhattacharyya & Co. managing director Amitabha Bhattacharyya. “We are being asked to show cause for the faults of the perpetrators of a crime, despite the fact that we are victims of the crime,” he said, adding that with Citu “reluctant” to enter into a dialogue, he was left with no option but to surrender the drug-manufacturing licence.
Citu, however, sees things differently. “The owners were planning to shut down the unit after denying workers their rights,” said a senior leader. “The union stepped in to save the jobs of more than 100 workers only after the owners shut down the unit and showed no sign of reopening a concern that has been in business since 1889.”
Trouble was brewing in the firm since 1996, when the owners first showed losses and failed to pay bonus and the like. Though bonus was paid (by selling off some of the firm’s assets) the confrontation soon assumed a more menacing look.
On September 14, 2002, the firm announced temporary suspension of all activities. “We found that we could not bear the losses any more,” said Bhattacharya. Citu, however, spied in the suspension of work an attempt to shut down the company permanently. “Many families would not have survived if the union had not stepped in to keep the factory running,” said a Citu spokesperson.
So, on September 16 last year, Citu men smashed open the factory gates to take over the unit located on N.S. Road. They also proceeded to manufacture the same drugs and then sell them through the M. Bhattacharyya counters located across the city. But they “forgot” to employ an analytical chemist, a manufacturing chemist and a botanist, according to the report submitted by a drugs control inspection team.
Taking note of the illegal goings-on, the drugs control directorate decided to issue a showcause. But the notice and the directive to surrender the drug-manufacturing licence was issued to the owners and not the workers who have been manufacturing the drugs.
Citu state secretariat member Mrinal Das, meanwhile, said efforts for a rapprochement were on. “We are all for talks,” he said. All that state drugs control director Krishangshu Ray would say was: “I cannot comment now.”