Traffic was paralysed for hours on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass on Sunday morning when hundreds of tannery workers, backed by CPI trade union leader Gurudas Dasgupta, set up roadblocks to protest the CESC move to disconnect their powerlines.
The state government has asked the CESC and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to disconnect power and waterlines of the tanneries following a Supreme Court order against tannery operations within the city limits.
Owing to the CESC action, people living in the Topsia area, including Chinatown, had to go without power for more than eight hours on Sunday. The CESC kicked off the operation with police help in the Tangra-Tiljala-Topsia area.
Power connections to about 90 per cent of the tanneries in the Tangra and Topsia areas were cut in a two-day operation that began on Saturday.
Tension mounted after about five tanneries were spared. According to additional superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Rajesh Kumar, power supply to more than 40 units was cut off on Sunday.
CPI leader Dasgupta reached the area around 11 am and led a crowd of agitated tannery workers towards the Bypass to put up a roadblock there.
Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee (the area is part of her constituency) quietly visited the area and returned. But her party leader and mayor’s council member Javed Ahmed Khan took up cudgels on behalf of tanners. Criticising the government action during Ramazan, Khan, who is himself a tannery-owner and a member of the Leather and Tannery Manufacturers’ Association, pointed out that it had deferred the drive to evict squatters on the banks of Beleghata canal during the Pujas.
“Forcing the tanneries to close during Ramazan means depriving the families of 60,000 tannery workers of Id celebrations, as they will not get their bonus,” said Khan.
He said it was not possible for tannery-owners to shift their units to the site of the proposed leather complex at Bantala, as the effluent treatment plant and the drainage network are not yet ready. Besides, the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) is yet to give power connection.
During the disconnection drive, CESC personnel faced resistance. The police took the help of the Rapid Action Force (RAF).
Though Mamata Banerjee and mayor Subrata Mukherjee had asked the CMC’s water supply department not to disconnect supplies to tanneries till the CESC snapped connections, CMC water supply department engineers joined the drive.