Siliguri, June 1: Over 40 former employees of Himul today said the state government-run dairy co-operative society owed them around Rs 4 crore in the form of post-retirement benefits and other dues and sought the intervention of the chief minister for the payment at the earliest.
The dairy firm based at Matigara near here has been incurring losses for years and has cut down the daily milk production from around 28,000 litres to nearly 7,000 litres.
“In total, 42 employees have retired from Himul since 2011. None of us have received the provident fund, leave salary, arrears and gratuity. We found that around Rs 4 crore is due to the former employees. All of us face financial problems and seek the intervention of the chief minister to see that our dues are paid at the earliest,” Ashok Dey, the president of the Himul Retired Employees’ Association, told a news conference here today.
Sources said Himul, which opened in 1976, has the capacity to process around 60,000 litres of milk a day. “The plant at Khaprail in Matigara (10km from Siliguri) used to produce around 28,000 litres of milk daily. A decline in the production started eight-10 years back and now, only 7,000 litres are processed by Himul which used to make profits till the late 1990’s,” said a source.
Apart from milk, Himul used to churn out other dairy products also.
“Himul has stopped the production of dairy products like paneer, lassi, curd, ghee and an energy drink. Although these products have a substantial demand in the north Bengal market, they are no longer made at the Himul plant,” said Subir Mukherjee, the president of the INTUC-backed Himul Employees’ Association, who was also present at the press conference.
“What we need right now is a competent management to run Himul so that it is back in the black. Earlier, Himul was the largest dairy firm in north Bengal and it is making losses nowadays because of the incompetence of a section of government officials,” he added.
Himul’s main source of milk was over 500 farmers’ societies in the Darjeeling hills, which stopped the supply in 2011 because of non-payment of money. All five chilling plants in the hills have also closed down.
In 2012, the Mamata Banerjee government had mooted a plan to revive Himul with the help of experts from Amul in Gujarat. It was also proposed that the dairy co-operative society would be operated on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode, with 49 per cent of the stake being kept with the state government and the remaining 51 per cent with an entrepreneur. However, there has been no follow-up on the plans.
The chief minister is scheduled to arrive in Siliguri today and hold a meeting with officials at Uttarkanya in the afternoon. This will be her first visit to north Bengal after the Lok Sabha election results were announced.
The present employees said they were not receiving salaries on a regular basis. “Himul has 134 employees now. We do not have a fixed date for the disbursal of salaries. Every month, we get the salaries in the second or third week. Considering the pitiable state of affairs at the firm, we doubt if the salaries for May will be disbursed in June,” said Mukherjee.
The dairy firm used to employ around 250 people during its heyday.
In another development, the regional provident fund authorities in Jalpaiguri froze all six bank accounts of Himul yesterday as over Rs 1 crore was due.
“Since August 2011, no deposits had been made in the PF account by the Himul authorities for the employees. Altogether, the PF due is around Rs 1 crore. All six bank accounts of the milk co-operative society were frozen yesterday,” said a source in the regional PF office.
Sources said the six accounts together had around Rs 37 lakh. The chief executive officer of Himul, P.N. Sherpa, who is also the additional district magistrate of Siliguri, has written to the state animal resource development department, seeking intervention to unfreeze the accounts.
Sherpa today refused to comment on the ex-employees’ grouse about the non-payment of dues.
Swapan Debnath, animal resources development minister, said. “I know about the problem. We are making arrangements so that the payments are made to them. However, it is not possible to mention the exact date of payment.”
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb said Debnath would visit Siliguri on June 13 and hold a meeting with the Himul authorities.