Amid allegations of arson, the state government on Tuesday ordered a CID probe into recurring instances of the Jessop factory in Dum Dum catching fire.
The painting department of the vacant factory went up in flames on Monday evening, the third time in two weeks, which former workers alleged was part of a conspiracy by a third party. Over 15 fire tenders had to be pressed into service to control the blaze.
“We will investigate and action will be taken against those involved in the matter,” said DIG-CID Bharat Lal Meena. “Normally, 40 police personnel are deployed there. We will increase the force. We will post combat force with non-lethal weapons,” said Commissioner of Barrackpore City Police Tanmoy Ray Chowdhury. However, workers alleged that the police have so far not taken any concrete action against anti-social activities taking place within the premises.
Dum Dum MLA Bratya Basu told The Indian Express, “The accident could be intentional. We are unsure about the plans of owners of Jessop and what they actually want to do with the land.”
Former employees of the factory said they were glad that CID was taking over the probe. Srikumar Banerjee, general secretary of the Jessop Company Limited Workers’ and Employees’ Union, said, “Miscreants enter the area daily at night with arms. A fire may break out once or twice. but this is intentionally being done to damage the factory part by part so the land can be vacated for some promoters.”
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According to sources, the municipality has been asked to clean up the area and arrange for better lighting in the premises. “We demand proper security inside the premises and an attendance table must be maintained to monitor the movements. We have personally seen miscreants stealing machinery of the factory,” said one of the workers.
According to the police, two orders regarding the factory had been passed by the Calcutta High Court . In 2013, the court had ordered the management to repair the boundary wall and ensure adequate lighting and better security. In 2014, the court had observed that while the administration had taken the necessary steps, the factory authorities had not.
On February 27 this year, the last day of the last session of the outgoing Assembly, the Trinamool Congress had passed a Bill for the takeover of wagon-maker firm Jessop & Company Ltd. The Bill is pending for presidential assent before it is converted into a law. The Jessop factory, which is around 228 years old, is currently legally owned by Pawan Kumar Ruia. However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, after passing the Bill, had started paying a monthly compensation of Rs 10,000 to 498 workers who were out of work after a ‘Suspension of work’ notice was issued by the factory management. Ruia had shut down the company in 2014. Since then, the factory is said to have become a “den for criminals”. The Ruia group had acquired Jessop in 2003, which was a central government undertaking before that.