|HBT workers take out a procession on Monday holding placards asking what they would eat if ABG (which co-owns HBT) is forced to leave. Picture by Jahangir Badsa
Haldia, Oct. 29: Nearly 100 employees of Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) have either fled their homes, or are spending the night elsewhere fearing attacks by retrenched workers after three company officials were allegedly forced to leave the town on Saturday night by an armed gang.
The gang drove the officials to a station, put them on a train to Calcutta and warned them against setting foot in Haldia again.
Pradip Ghosh, the 42-year-old manager (operations) of HBT, said that after hearing about his colleagues, he moved to a friend’s house outside the town.
“We are scared after three of our colleagues were forced to leave Haldia. A few days ago, I was also asked to leave Haldia by some unknown people. I ignored the threat. But I was not mentally prepared for what happened with my colleagues. I feel scared,” said Ghosh, who hails from Krishnagar in Nadia. “I am staying with a friend since last night.”
His wife, mother and two daughters “are staying at our rented flat. If the situation does not improve, there will be no other alternative but to leave Haldia.”
Another employee, 36-year-old Subrata Mondal who is a shift leader, said it would be difficult for him to leave the industrial town as he owns a house in Haldia. “I also stayed the night with a friend outside town yesterday. On September 28, some retrenched employees beat me up in the dock,” he said. “My aged parents, wife and seven-year-old daughter are at home. I keep worrying for them. But I can’t leave Haldia because I am from this place and own a house here,” Mondal said.
A crane operator of HBT, Gobindo Sahoo (name changed), has left his rented accommodation and gone to Contai to his ancestral house. “I felt insecure after the workers were threatened and assaulted. It was scary, the way the three officials were forced to leave Haldia,” said Sahoo, who used to live with his wife and two daughters.
HBT had 350 employees working at two mechanised berths in the port. On September 24, the company benched 275 hands citing paucity of work. The retrenched workers, backed by the Trinamul-affiliated INTTUC, have held protests and attacked HBT hands. On September 25, a day after laying off the workers, HBT stopped work. Hours before HBT was expected to resume operations, the three officials were forced to leave Haldia.
About 100 HBT workers, most of whom are not staying at their homes at night, took out a march this afternoon, holding a banner that demanded that they be allowed to work.
The retrenched workers also took out a procession this morning and shouted: “Chhatai shramik ke nitey hobey. Noile dholai hobey, pitai hobey (The retrenched workers will have to be taken back, or else they (HBT workers) will be beaten up.”
The procession by retrenched workers was led by Samiran Betal, a leader of the INTTUC-affiliated workers’ union of HBT. “The problem will be solved if HBT takes us back. We will protest if HBT tries to resume operation without us. If there is a law-and-order problem, HBT will be responsible,” he said.
The subdivisional police officer of Haldia, Amitava Maity, said there was “no reason for panic” as law and order was “fine”. Asked why no arrest was made after Saturday, he said: “We are trying to identify the miscreants. No one is named in the complaint.”