Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014

Illegal jute import fuelled labour unrest at Northbrook

Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata | Posted: June 29, 2014 5:19 am

An administrative investigation into the lynching of the CEO of Northbrook jute mill in Hooghly has revealed that apart from the reduced work days, the workers there were also upset over the management allegedly illegally importing cheaper jute bags from neighbouring countries to fulfil the government orders.

Sources said that after receiving complaints, the textile ministry has already ordered a probe against two jute mills in Bengal, including the Northbrook where about two weeks back the CEO, H K Maheshwari, was beaten to death by agitating workers. Citing poor government work order, the mill management wanted to reduce working days of the mill either to run the plant three days a week or five hours a day, which meant lesser pay for workers who were demanding a five-day work schedule and full pay.

The labour unrest aggravated amid allegations that the mill was importing jute bags from neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal in violation of a central Act for jute manufacturers. The Act specifies that the government would procure jute, which is produced and manufactured in India. It was also alleged that to fulfil the government orders, the mill was using second hand and recycled jute bags.

“As directed by the textile ministry, we have initiated an inquiry into the matter. Investigation is on,” said Subrata Gupta, jute commissioner. Gupta had earlier said that they have initiated investigation into the Northbrook jute mill incident in specific and 10-odd other jute mills, as there are numerous allegations of wrongdoings there.

The Indian Jute Mills Association had claimed that lack of order and piling of stocks had led to labour unrest, which resulted in the killing of the Maheshwari. The procurement figures, however, present a different picture. As per the government records, the order of raw jute increased from 12 lakh bales in 2006-2007 to 26.59 lakh bales in 2012-13. However, it fluctuated in 2013-14.

In West Bengal, of the total 64 jute mills, 52 were operational till June 15, the day Maheshwari was lynched. As a ripple effect of the incident, five jute mills suspended work rendering nearly 15,000 workers unemployed. The state government has already formed a team consisting of three ministers to resolve the issues in the jute industry.

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