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Union role stench in jute mill murder

June 18: The CID today took over the probe into the murder of the Northbrook Jute mill president and ruled out in a preliminary report the involvement of outsiders.

“There are nine unions in the mill (in Hooghly’s Champdani) and primarily, it doesn’t appear that outsiders were present when H.K. Maheshwari was attacked near the main gate. The gathering (that attacked the mill president) had representatives from all unions,” a senior CID officer said.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had on Monday singled out the CPM and the BJP and accused unions owing allegiance to the two parties for the attack, appearing to pass a verdict even when the probe is in a nascent stage.

“A conspiracy is at work everywhere ever since the new government was formed. A whisper campaign is on…. Should I mention the name of the two parties? The BJP and the CPM have unions there (Northbrook). The murder was pre-planned,” she had said.

Maheshwari, 69, was battered to death on June 15 when he went to hold talks with a section of jute mill workers agitating against the management’s proposal of cutting down on work hours to tackle financial stress. Within hours, the chief minister had alleged that “outsiders” were involved in the murder.

In the past too, the chief minister had commented on alleged crimes while the investigation was in progress. She had dubbed “sajano (fabricated)” the Park Street rape case in 2012. Calcutta police, however, concluded in its probe that the woman had been raped. She had also questioned the veracity of the allegation that a woman in Burdwan’s Katwa had been raped the same year.

A CID team today visited Northbrook and spoke to several members of the mill’s management and some workers. “We will take the eight arrested accused into our custody and interrogate them again. It is important to first reconstruct the build-up to the attack and the crime, too,” an officer said.

The CID has learnt that Maheshwari had tried to speak to the agitating workers despite repeated pleas by the management against doing so. Two others accompanying Maheshwari — Kamalnath Jha, the general manager, works, and Jadugopal Debnath, the security head — had also requested the mill president not to face the mob. But Maheshwari, who lived in a bungalow on the mill premises, insisted on meeting the protesters and ordered the guards manning the main entrance to open the gates.

“Maheshwari was confident of handling the situation,” another officer said.

The CID had found out that five minutes into the talks, the workers started hurling stones and pieces of broken flowerpots on Maheshwari, Jha and Debnath. Some workers had removed Jha and Debnath from the spot before assaulting Maheshwari. Jha was the first to be hit, followed by Debnath.

Maheshwari was then hurled onto the ground and his head battered with stones and bricks. The attack happened even before the police could arrive.

“The factory had finished product worth around Rs 40 crore lying in its stores and there were no takers. To battle the crisis, the management had proposed scaling down the working time from eight to five hours a day,” the CID officer said. “An alternative suggestion was to cut down two days in a week.”