Calcutta, April 11: At long last, the process to privatise the ailing Great Eastern Hotel took off today with seven employees picking up application forms for early retirement.
After the first deadline to accept the early retirement (ERS) scheme elapsed amid allegations that employees willing to accept it were being threatened by unions, the government had opened a venue for disbursal of the forms away from the hotel.
Significantly, the forms were picked up today from the tourism department office at 2 Brabourne Road ' a vindication of reports that the hotel unions were not allowing employees to take up the offer.
'We left the hotel this afternoon on pretext of going out for lunch,' said one of the seven employees who collected the form.
'A little before 2 pm, we left the hotel in ones and twos, buying packets of muri or kochuri along the way to make it seem like a normal lunch outing. We had heard that the unions had posted men who were keeping watch on the tourism office. Once we reached there, we sought the forms unitedly,' the employee, a grade-I officer of the hotel, added.
A tourism department official said all seven officers had queries about when their dues would be settled and whether they would get the money due to them because of upgrade of posts and finance commission recommendations.
'We assured them that all their dues would be paid and asked them to submit their queries in writing tomorrow,' a tourism official said.
All seven employees said they intended to submit the filled-up forms tomorrow. Five of them were around 55. The other two approaching 59.
There was a flutter in the hotel as word got around that the ERS forms were being picked up, especially among workers from Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.
'About 60 to 70 class-IV employees from other states have decided to take up the ERS. They are desperate to return home with their dues and have decided to approach the hotel member secretary for application forms tomorrow,' a hotel employee revealed.
Another group of around 20 clerical employees is also expected to pick up the forms from the Brabourne Road office tomorrow.
The government decided to reopen the ERS offer after it received reports of intimidation by union leaders.
The employees willing to retire had written an anonymous letter to the tourism secretary just before the deadline of March 26 expired, expressing their inability to take up the scheme despite their desire to do so. They also requested the government to issue the forms somewhere outside the hotel, where they could pick them up without being exposed to the unions' wrath.
Tourism secretary T.K. Barman sought to reassure the employees that the government would settle all dues by June-end. 'We want to assure all ERS applicants that we will settle all their claims by the end of June. Till then, the payment of their salary and all other arrears is the responsibility of the state government,' Barman said.