|(Left) INTTUC flags tied to tree branches in front of a picket post near the Haldia port on Friday; the flags removed from the post on Saturday. Pictures by Jahangir Badsa
Haldia, Oct. 27: Trinamul flags disappeared from picket posts near the Haldia dock complex and police tents sprouted in the vicinity today in line with a court order to protect those willing to work for a private cargo handler.
However, several hours ago on Friday night, motorcycle-borne youths had knocked on homes of some workers of Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) in a throwback to the darkest days of militant unionism that had heralded the decline and fall of Bengal.
The youths allegedly threatened the families with dire consequences if their earning members turned up for work until workers laid off by HBT were taken back.
The Telegraph tracked down two such families who recounted the events on Friday night but insisted that their identity be kept confidential for fear of reprisals.
HBT employee: Subol Maity (name changed)
Maitys’ wife and daughter were sitting in bed with their legs curled up. They initially refused to speak, almost shivering in fear. However, assured that their identity will not be disclosed, they agreed to speak.
Maity’s wife said: “There were around 25 to 30 of them. Around 10pm, we had just finished our meal after hearing that my husband would come in late. We heard the roar of motorbikes. We peeped out of our window and found that the two-wheelers were being parked in front of our house. Then the men began banging on our house gate.”
Asked what the youths had told them, she said: “Our lives will be at risk. We can’t say. You will take our names and we will be in deep trouble.”
Again assured that their anonymity would be protected, the daughter said: “We feared trouble. That’s why we didn’t open the door. They shouted that my father should not go to work… he should side with the retrenched workers of HBT by staying away from duty.”
Immediately after the youths left, Maity’s wife alerted him and told him not to return home at night.
The family today filed a police complaint. “We have got the complaint and investigation will start,” a police officer said this evening.
HBT employee: Tuhin Naskar (name changed)
Naskar was also not at home when the youths came to his house.
Naskar’s wife said: “First, they asked for my husband. But he wasn’t at home. Then they said ‘ask him not to go to work but to join the dharna of the laid-off workers or you would be driven out of Haldia’.”
Trembling, the lady added: “We are petrified. My husband is in hiding. If he reports for work, he may be killed. If he doesn’t, our family with two daughters will be ruined.”
Trinamul today said the party did not support any action that prevented workers from joining their duties. INTTUC dock union general secretary Utpal Bera said: “We have not gone around threatening anyone in Haldia to stay away from work. In any case, most of the retained workers are supporting the cause of the retrenched people.”
“Just see, there are no party flags in our dharna manch now,’’ Bera added.
Asked why the flags were removed, another Trinamul leader who requested anonymity said: “Some people are misinterpreting our support to the retrenched workers and making us out to be anti-industry and anti-development. We don’t want this impression to gain ground. So we have taken off our flags from the pickets, especially since we are in government today.”
Asked about the agitation, Samiran Betal, a retrenched worker, said those sacked were forced to carry on as they had lost their jobs. “We have no other option. In fact, those who still have jobs in HBT are supporting us. All this talk of threats is sheer rubbish,’’ he said.
Superintendent of police S.K. Jain said: “The situation inside and outside the dock is normal. I haven’t heard about any complaint as yet. Police camps are being set up on the dock premises and outside.”
HBT said it was waiting for the police arrangement, for which it has paid Rs 17.46 lakh for 10 days, to be in place to resume work.
The Calcutta Port Trust has moved the vacation bench of the high court seeking an order directing HBT to resume work.
“In the second part of the prayer, my client prayed before the court to allow it to give effect to its letter dated October 12 this year to HBT asking why it will not cancel the agreement it had signed with HBT,” CPT’s advocate Arunava Ghosh said.