Ashim Mukherjee. File picture
Andal (Durgapur), Aug. 2: A leader of Trinamul’s labour arm was arrested on murder charges today after an Eastern Coalfields Limited contractor died following a scuffle with him and the family of the deceased linked the death to an unpaid extortion demand.
Kedar Pal, secretary of the INTTUC-backed trade union at a coalmine, kicked and punched electrical maintenance contractor Ashim Mukherjee, 36, and banged his head repeatedly against a wall, the victim’s employee and eyewitness Kartik Dhibar told The Telegraph.
The fracas took place around 10am outside the gates of the Real Jambad opencast mine in Andal, 210km from Calcutta. Ashim, who fell unconscious, was declared dead on arrival at a hospital.
Ashim’s brother Anup, who lodged the police complaint on the basis of Kartik’s account, said: “My elder brother had told me the INTTUC leader was demanding money from him. He was killed because he had refused to pay.”
Pal surrendered to police following instructions from the INTTUC leadership, a rare response from a ruling establishment racked by extortion charges against its functionaries and under pressure to send a positive message to industry.
Trinamul recently suspended three party and trade union activists accused of violence or extortion in the Asansol-Durgapur belt and allowed police to start criminal cases, although several senior party leaders accused of criminal offences continue to evade action.
The police haven’t slapped extortion charges on Pal, though, because Anup “could not provide specific details”, an officer who didn’t wish to be named said.
A Raniganj-based contractor associated with ECL said extortion demands by ruling party activists were common in the industrial belt.
“ECL has 105 mines spread over Jharkhand, Burdwan, Birbhum and Purulia and engages 400 contractors, who have to keep the union leaders in good humour to be able to go on working,” he said.
“We had to keep Citu happy during Left rule; now we have to pay INTTUC leaders. The only difference is that the demands for money have grown significantly in recent times.”
Ashim is survived by wife Chinmoyee, a three-year-old son, his parents and three brothers with whom he lived in a two-storey house in Asansol.
Kartik said he and Ashim had come to the mine this morning to discuss payment dues with a manager. He said the trigger for the attack was a quarrel over the parking of the duo’s motorbike outside the gates.
“Some of Pal’s men picked up a helmet we had left behind on the bike and threw it to the ground. When Ashim asked Kedar, who was sitting under a shade nearby, why he was harassing him, an argument started and turned into a scuffle,” Kartik said.
The Trinamul leadership tried to distance the party and its labour arm from the incident. Labour minister Moloy Ghatak, an MLA from Asansol (north) with a significant following in the industrial belt, blamed “personal animosity” between Ashim and Pal.
Asked to explain, he said: “I don’t know the real reason for the animosity, our local sources told us there was some problem between them.”
Narendranath Chakraborty, Trinamul block president in Pandaveswar who looks after the INTTUC union in the area, claimed Ashim was suffering from “cardiac ailments” and collapsed from “chest pain during the argument”. Anup denied his brother had any cardiac ailments.
Chakraborty said the INTTUC had started an internal inquiry and called an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the matter.