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11-hour blockade on tracks

Thousands of commuters were stranded after workers of a closed jute mill and their families squatted on the railway tracks at Titagarh station on Monday, disrupting train services for 11 hours.

Trains could not ply on the Dum Dum-Naihati section of Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division from 8.20am to 7.20pm because of the blockade by workers demanding re-opening of Loomtex Jute Mill, closed since October.

The disruptions led to cancellation of 31 pairs of local trains to and from Sealdah and three long-distance trains being stranded at various stations for over nine hours. The 100-odd policemen, including RAF personnel, deployed there stood helpless. They apparently had no order to forcibly remove the squatters.

With train services suspended, office-bound commuters had to take buses from BT Road. Many were forced to travel on footboards of overcrowded buses. The autos made most of the day by charging more.

The absence of announcement at Titagarh and other stations made the situation even more difficult for commuters.

“I waited at Titagarh station for over an hour but the train did not start. The police were not even trying to lift the blockade. I tried to take a bus but it was so crowded that I could not get in. I got so late that I had no option but to head back home,” said Amit Ghosh, a resident Barrackpore who works at a private firm in Salt Lake Sector V. The train in which Ghosh was travelling was the first to run into the block.

Those stranded at other stations faced the same problem. “There was no announcement at Barrackpore station. I waited for over half an hour but none could say why the service was suspended or when it would resume. I tried to look for a taxi but found none. Finally, I had to pay Rs 1,000 to hire a car and reach BBD Bag,” said Subhra Maiti, a resident of Barrackpore who runs a business of manufacturing modular kitchen equipment.

Around 2,000 workers of the Titagarh mill and their families, backed by 11 trade unions, took part in the blockade. They said 3,000 people lost their jobs when the mill closed down on October 28.

“We had no other option but to block the tracks. The owners are neither reopening the mill nor paying our dues. We want the government to intervene and help us get back our jobs,” said Sarmishta Chowdhury, the secretary of the unified committee of the 11 labour unions in the mill.

The police said they tried to persuade the protesters to lift the blockade but failed. “We had even arranged a meeting between union leaders and mill officials but the workers wanted an immediate assurance. We tried our best but were not in a position to apply force as there were many women and children among the protesters,” said a senior officer at the spot.

Railway officials said they had requested the police to remove the blockade. “We tried to divert trains but it didn’t help much,” said a railway official.