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Three-tier strike on PF defaulters

Calcutta, Sept. 17: The polite letters have reached, the not-so-polite ones are being scripted and the knockout punch is being planned.

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, in a determined bid to identify, attach and then auction the hidden assets of provident fund defaulters, has launched a three-pronged attack on the violators of the statutory pay-up norms.

A team of private detectives and a battery of lawyers have been roped in to turn the heat on the defaulters. While the sleuths are compiling the default dossier, the legal eagles are sealing the escape routes.

The organisation’s move has come at a time when Bengal tops the default quantum in the country. So far, the violators, to avoid coughing up the lump-sum amount, have been taking recourse to a clever ploy — bankruptcy. Moreover, finding out hidden assets depended on government agencies. Even then, attachment of property involved protracted legal battles.

“Tracing the property of the defaulters has always been a difficult task. We used to employ our internal intelligence for the purpose. But now we have got the green signal from the ministry to employ outside agencies like private detectives to unearth the hidden assets of the defaulters,” said a senior organisation officer.

To make the defaulters fall in line, and fast, a directorate of recovery has been set up under the direct supervision of the labour ministry. Speeding up the recovery drive will be Compliance 2004, a campaign that has been launched to make employers cough up the dues.

Because of the quantum of default in the Bengal region, the regional office in Salt Lake has been the first to call in the sleuths. Twenty-one other regional offices will also adopt these measures.

“The default here is over Rs 300 crore and the jute industry alone accounts for over Rs 250 crore of this amount. Letters (the polite ones) signed by Ajai Singh, central provident fund commissioner, have been despatched to the defaulters with a request to pay up the dues as soon as possible,” the officer said. If the dues are not cleared, the organisation — armed with the dossier provided by the private detectives — will start identifying and attaching properties. The groundwork, said sources, is almost complete and the decks are being cleared for stage two of the operation.

“Since property attachment involves a lot of litigation, we have signed up some of the senior-most lawyers in Calcutta to prepare watertight cases. The central office has given us the freedom to go after the defaulters,” the officer added.

According to figures available from organisation sources, the jute industry tops Bengal’s default list. Of the 57 jute factories in the state, over 30 have provident fund dues which add up to crores of rupees. Most these are reportedly profit-making units, but employees are being deprived of their dues that are being channelled elsewhere.

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