Maa Chandi Paper Mill. Picture by Arup Sarkar
Durgapur, Aug. 22: A Jammu-based company trying to revive a closed paper mill in Durgapur had to stall work today because of alleged pressure to buy construction materials and hire labourers from two rival syndicates run by Trinamul leaders.
The allegation of strongarm tactics was made a day after the foreign minister of Singapore, which the chief minister visited to court investments, said businessmen of his country were looking for political and legal stability and security as key factors before investing in any Indian state.
Babu Khandelwal, the owner of Star Industries that owns a ferro alloy factory in Jammu, said he was regretting his decision to buy an industrial unit in Bengal to the extent that he had been “left with no option but to tear my hair”.
Star Industries purchased Maa Chandi Paper Mill in Laodoha, 25km from Durgapur town, in June. The mill was shut down by its former owner two years ago and Star Industries was carrying out renovation and upgrade before reopening it.
“I purchased the closed paper mill for Rs 2.75 crore in June and decided to enhance production to 100 tonnes a day from 25 tonnes. We were constructing a boundary wall but two syndicates run by two Trinamul factions constantly pressurised us to take construction materials and labourers from them,” Khandelwal said.
“Initially, we had agreed to take the materials from both but they began to forcibly supply more than our requirement,” he added, a charge that has been frequently levelled against syndicates elsewhere in the state, including Rajarhat. Last week, the Trinamul leadership issued a circular warning party members in North 24-Parganas against involvement in syndicates.
“I now have no option but to tear my hair over my decision to buy a factory in Bengal. I had never thought I would have such an experience here. I have a ferro alloy plant in Jammu but have never faced such a problem there. I have decided to stop work at the mill for an indefinite period,” Khandelwal said before boarding the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express from Durgapur.
The Star Industries owner, who had planned to begin operations in January next year, said he had informed labour minister Malay Ghatak and police about the problem. Khandelwal had come to Durgapur two days ago to discuss the syndicate issue with local Trinamul leaders.
Paper mill manager Ardhendu Hazra alleged that around 2,000 villagers “led by local Trinamul leaders belonging to both factions” today demonstrated in front of the plant gate. “I received two calls from persons claiming to be members of the two syndicates. Each demanded that construction materials and labourers be taken from him and threatened to stop work if we did not,” Hazra said.
He said Star Industries needed around 50 workers to build the boundary wall.
“Each syndicate wants that all the labourers be hired from it. That is not possible because if we hire labourers from one, the other creates problems. Whenever we seek a consignment of sand or bricks, the syndicates send double the amount and force us to buy it. We are not able to complete the wall because Trinamul activists are disrupting work,” Hazra said.
He said minister Ghatak had assured the mill of help. “We approached the police too today, but they wanted us to name the demonstrators. We could not do so as we don’t live here and don’t know the people. It is the duty of the police to find out who took part in the demonstration,” Hazra added.
He alleged that local Trinamul leaders Manas Mandal and Tapas Mandal led the two syndicates. The two leaders could not be contacted.
Sujit Mukherjee, the Trinamul president of Laodoha block, said he knew that Manas and Tapas ran syndicates and had disrupted work at the mill. “I have told my seniors in the party about them and sought action,” Mukherjee said.
Ghatak said: “I have told the local police to take action against those disrupting work at the mill, irrespective of political colour.”
Uday Ghosh, the officer in charge of Laodoha police station, said a team was patrolling the area.