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Welcome to the murky world on the waterfront, where muscle power rules and the mastan salaami rate-card for safe passage of goods, from ship to dockyard gate, is the writ of law.
Desperate to free Calcutta port from the clutches of mafia raj, the Left Front government on Thursday sent a strong message to Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, to get rid of criminal elements causing havoc in the dockyards while operating under its banner. “We will discuss the issue at our secretariat meeting on August 4. We will ensure that the port is free of trouble,” said Citu leader Mrinal Das.
For the past two days, a Citu blockade had prevented unloading of petroleum coke from an Indonesian ship. Dockyard leaders, grouped under the Citu-affiliated Calcutta Port and Shore Mazdoor Union, had demanded that labourers be paid hefty salami to ensure a safe passage for the 6,718 tonnes of cargo to the consignee’s factories at Budge Budge.
Despite the government’s efforts to allow a free passage for the petroleum coke shipment on Wednesday, Citu workers allowed the unloading but blocked the transportation of the goods. The Citu reign of terror ran through the night as workers, armed with knives and sticks, drove away drivers from the lorries waiting for the shipment from the Indonesian vessel.
It was only around 9 am on Thursday that the demonstrators were driven away by the police. By late afternoon, the first batch of 25 lorries was loaded and ready to roll out of the docks.
“The government has been pretty vocal about its intentions to revive the port. But this incident proves that the mafia still rules the waterfront,” observed Ramesh Agarwal, managing director of R. Pyarelal, a city-based company dealing in food items that is one of the biggest users of the port.
At the port, the power politics is anything but simple. Citu workers seem to be ruled not by their own leaders but also by a Samata Party neta in the form of Noor Ahmed, who is said to have engineered the MV Yaya Suntujuh blockade. “No this is not true. Most of my men have left me and joined Citu. I am being maligned. I don’t have the manpower to stage such blockades,” claimed Ahmed, president of the Samata-affiliated Calcutta Port Shramik Janata Panchayat.