|Santi (top) in the erstwhile food processing unit and in the assembly line of the new factory. Telegraph pictures
Siliguri, Feb. 18: Santi Modak, who used to make jam, jelly and pickle two years ago, now stands in the assembly line of the factory, wearing an apron and gloves, putting together parts of a colour television set or the monitor of a computer.
For Santi and her 35 colleagues, life has definitely changed. Though they work on the same old premises of the Kanchan factory, the name of the company has changed to Kitchen Appliances India Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Videocon Group. Kanchan is the sole unit of the group in India to manufacture computers.
The company today formally declared commencement of production and launching of products made at the refurbished unit. The announcement brought relief to the employees of Kanchan, who faced an uncertain future when the government-owned food-processing unit closed down a year ago.
“We had undergone two-weeks of training here and can work in the assembly line now,” said Santi, who has studied up to Class VII. “Use of the latest technologies by the company has cut down our workload. This gave us additional time to learn and work.”
From the monetary side, too, the situation has improved for the workers. “We used to get Rs 50 a day while processing food items, that too, irregularly. Now we are getting Rs 100 per day,” said Bina Chakrobarty, who has studied up to Class VIII and used to slice fruits in the earlier Kanchan factory. “The authorities (Videocon) have assured us a pay hike once we become more competent in the new job.”
Others like Nitai Bose, a former boilerman of the fruit processing unit, appeared to be equally satisfied. “Earlier, our total monthly emolument was around Rs 2,200. We are earning much higher now,” he said. The employees, however, said Videocon is yet to pay the gratuity due to them from the days of the food processing unit.
“We have entered into an agreement with them (the workers) and promise to clear their gratuity in the next three months,” said Gautam Sengupta, the vice-president of Videocon.
All of them, he said, have been absorbed as trainees and would be posted in different processes at the plant.
Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had on February 20 last year declared that Videocon was acquiring Kanchan with the commitment that the plant would start production within a year. “We kept our promise. So far, more than Rs 7 crore has been invested here and we will spend Rs 25 crore in the first year,” Sengupta said.
“Regarding recruitment at senior technical levels, we have started conducting campus interviews at engineering colleges of the region,” the vice-president added.
The company officials have plans for two more units — one for biotechnology and another for IT hardware — near Fulbari on an unused plot owned by the state housing department. Construction at the site will commence soon, the officials said.
“We are not bothered as to whether these areas are declared as SEZs or not. Our factories would be set up at the site as per our earlier decision,” one official said.
State urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, who was present in today’s function, said his government would showcase the Videocon project at Kanchan as a success story. “It is ironic that even some of our Left allies are putting up obstacles in the way of industrialisation, along with irresponsible parties in the Opposition,” Bhattacharya said.