The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Desperate tanners at Buddha door

A day after the Supreme Court directed the state government to “seal and seize” tanneries if they still refused to shift from the Park Circus area to Bantala, tannery owners and workers on Saturday formed a joint action committee to launch a “greater movement.”

Tannery owners said during the day the seven-member committee will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday seeking his intervention in the matter.

“What can we do now' I heard the authorities might seal the factories, so where is the choice'” lamented Jaminul Hussain, a tannery owner and a member of the core committee.

Hussain is not the only one to feel let down. Several other tannery owners in the Tangra-Topsia-Tiljala sector, who had a determined look on their faces, seemed crestfallen after Friday’s Supreme Court directive in case owners refused to shift their factories from eastern Calcutta.

For the last seven to eight years, tannery owners had thwarted several attempts by the West Bengal government to shift their tanneries to Bantala. Friday’s verdict, which many had hoped would support their cause, actually went against them.

With the government keen on enforcing the Supreme Court verdict to shift tanneries, believed to be spreading pollution at an alarming rate, Jaminul Hussain and others like him have no choice but to shift. “Slowly the struggle seems to be losing force. Now more and more people like me are having second thoughts and are planning to shift,” said another tannery owner, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of being persecuted by influential owners, who are still determined to put up a fight.

From early morning, tannery owners gathered to discuss their next course of action. The joint action committee was formed with representatives from all sections of owners and workers pledging to fight to the last to prevent the government from enforcing the court’s directive.

“The government earns over Rs 3,000 crore in foreign exchange, which they will lose if tannery owners now decide to shift. Over 200,000 employees will lose their jobs once Tangra is shut down. But who is listening'” said one owner.

It is learnt that several tannery owners have received attractive offers from various places in Chandigarh and towns in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh to shift their tanneries.

Representatives from all seven tannery associations were present during the meeting, with Chandraeshwar Rao, representing the workers, and Mayor in-Council (Health) Javed Khan, also the spokesman for the Calcutta Leather and Tannery Manufacturers Association, figuring prominently on the list.

The association members decided to launch a series of agitations against the directive, starting Monday.

Several hundred tannery owners and workers gheraoed Tiljala police station all afternoon demanding justice.

The agitators finally lifted the gherao, but threatened to meet the chief minister. “We will seek an audience with him. We hope he understands our plight for even the alternative centre in Bantala is not ready for relocation,” said a spokesman.

A waste management centre in Bantala is reportedly not functioning, which means that tannery owners will not be able to start manufacturing there.

In 1996, the court had directed that the state government relocate the tanneries to Bantala, the country’s first integrated facility.

To apply pressure on them the government snapped power supply to Tangra. But most tanneries managed to continue work with illegal power connections. But with Friday’s verdict, there is little that tannery owners can do now.

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