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Violence rocks Tata Steel plant

- Security guards open fire, 9 hurt in clash outside factory gate over bicycle fiat

Jamshedpur, Dec. 24: A verbal duel between Tata Steel security guards and contract workers over taking bicycles inside company premises snowballed into an ugly stone-versus-bullet war, triggering rampage and arson and leaving nine persons injured at Burmamines on Monday morning.

The incident, a grim reminder of a similar clash two years ago, saw two separate FIRs being lodged at Burmamines police station in the evening. While workers lodged one against Tata Steel security guards, the management filed another against workers for vandalising company property.

According to eyewitnesses, trouble started at 7.30am, when some 8,000 contract workers queued up outside the HSM Gate of Tata Steel to punch their ID cards for attendance. Security guards reminded the workers of a recent company rule and asked them to leave their cycles at a designated parking lot 2km away and take the bus for employees to work.

This triggered a heated debate.

Workers argued that the trip from and to HSM Gate would take at least half an hour and, if they did not punch in by 8.15am, they would be marked absent. But, the security guards allegedly remained adamant, prompting angry workers to pelt stones at them.

Three of the guards — Sanjay Gupta (40), Ravi Kant Thakur (38) and S.K. Mishra (35) — were injured in the attack.

Clearly outnumbered, the remaining 37 bewildered guards opened fire in retaliation. While nine rounds were released in the air, five more were directed at the workers. Five contract employees — Ramchandra Hansdah (38), Dhananjay Kumar (27), Kanu Ram Hembrom (35), Jagat Samad (23) and Pintu Mondal (21) — and a photographer of a local vernacular daily, Madan Sahu (35), sustained splinter injuries.

Incensed by the firing, the mob went on the rampage. The workers damaged four radio frequency identification devices, three cars and a carrier. They also torched nearly a dozen two-wheelers and 20 bicycles parked near the gate. The chaos and arson continued for more than an hour before police intervened.

All the injured have been admitted to Tata Main Hospital.

Tata Steel vice-president Sanjiv Paul admitted that firing on workers was a wrong decision, but hinted that vested interests among workers were at work.

“We had issued a circular prohibiting use of bicycles inside premises to prevent mishaps. However, the firing should not have happened. We have started an internal inquiry and action will be taken against the guilty. For now, we will allow cycles inside the company premises till further orders. Suitable compensation will also be given to those injured,” he said.

In a hurriedly called news conference in the evening, Paul claimed they had come to know that security guards had, in the last minute, allowed contract workers to take their cycles inside the prem-ises. “However, the workers were instigated by rogues from outside,” he said.

He added that production had not been affected because of the clash.

Speaking to The Telegraph from his hospital bed, Dhananjay Kumar — a contract worker and resident of Kailashnagar in Burmamines — claimed that the abusive language used by the guards and, subsequent, firing aggravated the situation.

“Like every day, I was waiting at the HSM Gate for my turn to punch the ID card to enter. Till Saturday, we had wheeled our cycles into the company premises and there was no problem. Suddenly today, the guards asked us to leave them outside and take the bus to the work site. It was illogical. There was just one bus and 8,000 of us. We would never have made it on time. But, the guards refused to hear reason,” said Dhananjay, who received splinter injuries in his left ankle, groin, right side of chest, waist and shoulders.

Tata Steel spokesperson Prabhat Sharma, however, claimed that there were more than 50 buses to ferry both contract and permanent workers.

East Singhbhum SSP Akhilesh Jha, who reached the flashpoint along with deputy commissioner Himani Pande and other administrative officials, said FIRs had been lodged with Burmamines police. “We are investigating the matter,”he added.

There are as many as six entry gates to the Tata Steel factory in Jamshedpur. These are in Jugsalai (Powerhouse Gate), Bistupur (N Road, police station and general office gates), Sakchi (L Town Gate) and Burmamines (HSM and NML gates). More than 10,000 contract workers use the HSM Gate alone.

This was the second flare-up between contract workers and security guards at Tata Steel.

On June 28, 2010, a contract worker had an argument with security personnel at L Town Gate over entry without undergoing mandatory security clearance. The situation worsened when a guard slapped him. More than 2,000 workers protested against the incident, pelting stones and damaging cars, motorbikes and cycles.

Seven contract workers and three security guards had been injured in the two-hour clash.

Jamshedpur MP Ajoy Kumar, who met lensman Sahu, offered legal help to lodge an FIR against the Tata Steel management and its chief security officer.

Jamshedpur East MLA Raghubar Das, who also met the injured, demanded a judicial probe into the episode. He blamed the callousness of Tata Steel’s chief security officer R. Khanna for the incident.