The simmering feud over turf between two groups, backed, respectively, by labour wings Citu and Intuc, came to a head on Tuesday, when six men ended up in hospital after an hour-long gunbattle at the Kidderpore dockyard.
But in a move that could deal a body blow to the ailing port, the Central Inland Water Transport Corporation (CIWTC) authorities said after the clash that they were closing down loading-unloading operations for “five or six days”. Security will be beefed up in between, CIWTC security officer Rathin Raychaudhuri said.
Tuesday’s clash followed threats of extortion from CPM-backed goons that halted two unloading operations, including one for a public-sector giant, in the past few weeks. It began with a verbal duel between the two groups of workers belonging to Citu, labour arm of the CPM, and Intuc, the Congress’ labour wing, during loading of a shipment to Bangladesh.
Both groups wanted to control the operations, police said. A drop in income, thanks to a change in the nature of loading-unloading operations, had fuelled several minor clashes in the recent past. “Most of the unloading operations now are being carried out on containers and the activities have become mechanised,” police said. Labourers have less work, so the unions’ income from them has, consequently, dropped.
Tuesday’s clash, however, was on a much larger scale. After exchanging blows for a few minutes, the first bomb was thrown a little after 9.30 am.
These blasts were gradually replaced by the sound of firing, as the goons took up position on either side of the CIWTC godown. The two gangs traded bombs and bullets for about an hour before the police arrived.
Till the end of the day, the police had failed to arrest even a single gangster involved in the clash. Even the injured were left behind as, according to deputy commissioner (port) O.P. Gupta, there was “no complaint” lodged against them. Four of the six injured by splinters were discharged after treatment but the two others had to be shifted to SSKM Hospital. A bullet had pierced the chest of Bikram Mahato and Rajkishor Yadav’s stomach was slashed by a chopper.
CIWTC operations were hit by the clashes. Labourers affiliated to Citu went on a dharna that was lifted only around 1 pm. But the CIWTC authorities said the dock would not see much activity in another “five to six” days. “We will need at least five to six days to beef up security around the CIWTC dockyard,” security officer Raychaudhuri said. The godowns would undergo an intensive search for arms, officials said.
They suspected that the godowns had become stockpiles of weapons used on Tuesday.