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Loaded lorries caught in labour unrest

Striking workers allegedly loyal to Trinamul and the management of Jessop Co. Ltd, an engineering firm founded in 1820, had a showdown over three lorries loaded with iron beams thought to be factory parts being sneaked out to be sold.

A group of workers stopped the vehicles, seized the keys and deflated the front tyres after accusing the management of stripping the factory of its assets on Tuesday night. The group had alleged that the company had not paid salaries since last November.

The management denied the allegation that it was selling company assets on the sly. It called the agitating workers politically motivated and accused them of sabotaging plans to revive one of Bengal’s oldest engineering firms.

A trailer truck and two smaller lorries heavily laden with iron beams stood on a side lane off Jessore Road near St. Patrick’s Church as the stand-off continued.

It has been learnt that the beams were to be fitted to a heavy-duty crane with a capacity to lug 30 tonnes of load.

“Jessop has got a contract from the Military Engineering Services (MES), Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Since its machine facility is out of order, the management had decided to send two compensating beams and two sil beams to Lakshmi Narayan Engineering Works in Belghoria (north Calcutta) for machining. The beams were loaded on two trucks and a trailer along with the necessary challans for transportation signed by Nikhil Roy of mechanical works, Jessop,” a statement from the Pawan Kumar Ruia-owned company said.

The company manufactures railway coaches and wagons, cranes, road rollers and hydraulic equipment.

A Jessop spokesperson showed the challans to prove that the goods were not “strips of the factory” as alleged by a section of workers. “They stopped the trucks for some other reason, not on the suspicion that we are selling off company assets one by one. They are crippling the company and preventing it from earning money to pay wages,” he added.

The workers would hear none of it. “The authorities are trying to sell machinery and products in the factory as scrap… and have plans to shut down this unit. We haven’t got our salary since November and retired workers haven’t been paid their dues,” alleged Srikumar Banerjee, leader of the Trinamul-affiliated labour union.

Banerjee, who was sacked in November 2012 for allegedly leading protests against the company, said: “We stopped the trucks to mark our protest against the company’s wrongdoing. The company is trying to sell the beams as scrap.”

Goutam Maji, the owner of Lakshmi Narayan Engineering Works, alleged that he was not allowed to lodge a complaint with Dum Dum police station on Thursday for the “unlawful confiscation of the trucks” and “keeping him and two others hostage for a day”. The inspector-in-charge allegedly turned him down, saying several court orders were pending against the company.

Maji said he would file a complaint with the Barrackpore commissioner on Friday.

He also alleged that workers of Jessop held him and two of his employees hostage from Tuesday morning to night.

“I went there on Thursday and requested the workers to hand me the trucks. They threatened to attack me and drove me out. When I went to the police station, I was made to wait for over three hours… then they refused to take down my complaint,” Maji said.

Jessop filed a complaint with the Barrackpore commissionerate on Wednesday.

The company was an engineering giant during the British period but lost its moorings after government turned it into a public sector undertaking. In 1986, Jessop became a subsidiary of Bharat Bhari Udyog Nigam. Hemmed in by mounting losses, the government sold 72 per cent of its stake to Pawan Kumar Ruia’s group in 2003.