The Telegraph
Sunday , August 24 , 2014
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Fed up, cries industry voice

- Silence ends on ‘welfare’ syndicates

Durgapur, Aug. 23: The chief of an association of small industries in Durgapur, Bengal’s second largest industrial belt after Haldia, has said “we are fed up” with the Trinamul Congress and the Burdwan administration for failing to control syndicates that operate in the garb of “welfare societies”.

Syndicates or extortion rackets are an ill-kept secret in Bengal but Kripal Singh, the president of the Durgapur Small Industries Association, made the statement on record — a rare occurrence that reflects the gravity of the situation.

The statement of Singh, whose association represents around 100 factories, stands out in sharp contrast with the effusive praise some Calcutta-based businessmen have showered on the Mamata Banerjee government during and after the chief minister’s trip to Singapore this week.

A decorous convention under which domestic dirty linen is never washed on foreign soil and geographical proximity to the seat of power may have prompted the Calcutta businessmen to be generous in their compliments.

But Singh’s unequivocal statement flags an issue core to conducive environment for industry: security, a factor that was also underscored by Singapore foreign affairs and law minister K. Shanmugam in an interview to this newspaper two days ago.

It also brings out the plight of small units — the worst sufferers unlike big businesses, some of which pay and grin or activate contacts who can keep the racketeers on leash.

Singh, the association chief, said this afternoon: “Every time we want to carry out construction at our factories, we are forced to take materials from syndicates controlled by ruling party leaders and workers. The prices they charge are higher than the market rates.”

He added: “We are also forced to take poor quality materials in quantities more than our requirement. Many of the syndicates are run by rival Trinamul factions. It is difficult for individual factory owners to lodge complaints against ruling party members. We have to survive here.”

Asked if the association had informed the authorities, Singh said: “We have done that several times, but to no effect. We lodged several verbal complaints with the administration, the police and local Trinamul leaders but the situation is yet to change. We are fed up with the party and the administration. We think lodging complaints in the future will be fruitless.”

Apurba Mukherjee, Durgapur mayor and working president of Trinamul’s local unit, said the party leadership had “clearly stated” that involvement in syndicates would not be allowed.

Asked about the allegations made by the Small Industries Association, Mukherjee said: “Sometimes, some stray incidents take place. But we take immediate steps.”

The association, one of the two such umbrella organisations in Durgapur, had earlier this year accused a local Trinamul leader of running a syndicate and extorting traders but it had then blamed neither the party nor the administration.

Singh said the association had been pressured to buy construction materials from a Trinamul-run syndicate during the renovation of the organisation’s building a few days ago.

According to Singh, many of the syndicates were operating in the garb of “welfare societies”.

“On several occasions, businessmen were forced to buy materials from the syndicates but they did not know where to complain as the outfits were projected as welfare societies,” he said.

A member of one such “welfare society” said such a term was used as the Trinamul leadership has often warned party members against involvement in syndicates. Asked what “welfare” the society did, the member said the outfits “provided jobs to local youths”.

Singh said that at a meeting with Burdwan zilla parishad sabhadhipati Debu Tudu on Monday, the syndicate issue was raised. “The sabhadhipati assured us that the situation would improve but we are not too hopeful,” Singh said.

Yesterday, a Jammu-based company reviving a closed paper mill in Durgapur stopped work, alleging that two syndicates run by Trinamul leaders had forced it to take construction materials and labourers from them.

Babu Khandelwal, the owner of Star Industries that stopped renovation of the mill, today said over phone from Delhi that “there was no ambience for investment in Bengal”.

“I am upset,” said Khandelwal, whose Star Industries owns a ferro alloy factory in Jummu and had bought the paper mill in Durgapur a few months ago. Yesterday, he had said he regretted his decision to invest in Bengal to the extent that he had “no option but to tear my hair”.

The additional deputy commissioner of police (east), Sunil Yadav, said the force had not received any complaint against syndicates from industrialists.

“We shall definitely take action if complaints are lodged,” he said.

Ardhendu Hazra, the manager of Maa Chandi Paper Mill that Star Industries has bought, said the district administration was yet to offer any help. “We have not been contacted by the administration. We will not resume work until we receive an assurance that we would not face syndicate trouble in the future,” he said.

The mill management had informed labour minister Malay Ghatak about the syndicates’ coercive tactics.

Yadav said: “We are keeping watch on the situation.”

Minister Ghatak said the mill would not face further problems. “There was a small incident. I have asked the police and the administration to deal with it seriously,” he said.