The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tanners, staff open up twin flanks of protest

With Friday’s Supreme Court directive pushing them into a shift-or-suffer corner, tannery-owners and workers have decided to hit parallel paths of protest and pleadings. Both will emerge from Tangra-Tiljala-Topsia, but while one heads straight for Writers’ Buildings, the other threatens to meander from the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass to Alipore.

Tannery-owners are now busy devising a strategy to convey to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee some home truths about the Calcutta Leather Complex site at Bantala and the “impossibility” of an immediate shift there. A coordination committee has been set up to plead the case to the government.

The tannery-owners are reluctant to move to the Bantala complex, alleging that its promoter, M.L. Dalmiya and Co, was yet to provide the necessary infrastructure. “We will explain to the chief minister why it is impossible for us to shift immediately,” said convener of the committee Javed Ahmed Khan, a tannery-owner and member of the mayor-in-council in charge of health. “We will request him to constitute a fact-finding team.”

The tannery workers, meanwhile, are in no mood to abandon their protests. They had, last week, blocked the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and paralysed office-hour traffic. Gurudas Dasgupta, leader of the CPI’s labour arm, Aituc, said on Sunday the agitation would be “intensified” to exert more pressure on M.L. Dalmiya and Co to get the leather complex ready.

“The project contractor has failed to fulfil his promise. Infrastructure has not been made ready and it has become the obstacle for immediate relocation of the tanneries. As a result, families of over 40,000 workers are faced with penury,” said Dasgupta.

A section of tannery workers has reiterated its threat to gherao the Dalmiya residence in Alipore to protest the delay in getting the Bantala complex ready for the shift. “We are suffering because of the contractor’s failure,” they alleged.

But the state government has made it clear that it cannot brook further delay, in the wake of the apex court order directing it to ensure the shift-or-seal of the tanneries off the Bypass. “We have to abide by the Supreme Court order,” said industries secretary Jawhar Sircar. Last week, the government had directed the CESC to snap power lines to tanners in the Tiljala-Tangra-Topsia belt.

Sources in the government alleged that a section of the tannery-owners was using the “inadequate infrastructure” line to simply stall the shift. “In an organised leather complex, they will be more accountable to the workers and the government and will have to follow the labour laws and other rules,” said an official.

Some tannery-owners said on Sunday that taking advantage of the imbroglio, representatives from the department of industries of Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have started flooding them with “lucrative” offers. “Punjab has offered infrastructural facilities at a reasonable rate of Rs 400 per square metre,” said Khan, adding that a team of tannery-owners will visit the three states in December.

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