Sahajeda Khan (centre), whose father Shamser is among those arrested, walks in the procession in Haldia with other kids. Picture by Jahangir Badsa
Tamluk, Jan. 20: Nearly 250 retrenched Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) workers, some of them with their parents, wives and children, today marched to Sutahata police station to demand jobs and protest the arrest of their former colleagues allegedly on false charges.
The protesters carried Congress and Intuc flags. The party and its trade union wing are supporting the movement of former workers of the mechanised cargo handler that left Haldia port last year.
Fourteen sacked HBT workers were arrested on Tuesday and were charged under non-bailable sections such as attempt to murder, destroying police vehicles and voluntarily causing grievous hurt using dangerous weapons.
They were picked up during a procession to Sutahata police station to protest the government’s alleged role in HBT’s exit.
Lawyers appearing for the arrested men said the charges were “politically motivated”.
Today, the retrenched workers gathered at Bhagyabantapur in Haldia around 12.30pm. Many of them brought along their parents, wives and children. The children, including some of those whose fathers have been arrested, carried placards saying “Baba tumi bari esho, chardin khete paini (father please come home, I have not got anything to eat for four days)”.
HBT sacked 623 workers in two phases before it quit the port. Of them, around 200 workers sacked in the first phase have been given jobs, according to Trinamul MP Subhendu Adhikari.
Those retrenched in the second phase have been carrying out the movement.
When today’s procession reached Sutahata police station, the personnel came out and asked the protesters not to use microphones as they had not sought permission. The protesters obliged.
Sabita Bhunia, one of the protesters, alleged her husband Banamali was arrested on false charges.
“My husband was forced to work as a farm labourer after he lost his job. As a dumper helper with HBT, he used to earn Rs 12,000 a month. His income came down drastically after he was asked to leave. We can no longer afford private tuitions for our son and daughter. I don’t even have money to hire a good lawyer,” Sabita said.
Sultana Bibi, whose son Shamser Khan was among those arrested, walked in the procession with her grandson Sahajeda, a nursery student.
“My son was the only bread-winner of the family. After he lost his job, he had been doing odd jobs as a labourer,” said Sultana, 55.
Sahajeda said: “I want the police to release my father. I don’t know what my father has done.”
Shamser used to work as an operator and earned Rs 15,000 a month. As labourer, he had been earning Rs 150 a day when he gets work.
Retrenched worker Sheikh Siraj, who is leading the movement, said: “Trinamul supporters among the retrenched workers have got jobs. We will intensify our agitation. We will gherao the district police chief’s office in Tamluk.”
The procession was led by Intuc leader and district Congress general secretary Kanishka Ponda.
“Both the Intuc and the Congress are supporting the sacked workers’ movement. Trinamul is trying to enforce one-party rule in Haldia,” Ponda said.