Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Only ‘tareekh pe tareekh’, no salary, say workers at this Bengal factory as owner fights polls

The owner of Howrah’s Shalimar Steel firm is contesting on a TMC ticket. Labourers say they have stopped working as their salaries are due for eight months.

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Howrah (West Bengal): What is common between Hindi film actor Sunny Deol and Sunil Bhoumik, who works at a factory in Howrah, West Bengal? Both have been complaining of ‘tareekh pe tareekh (dates after dates)’ in their reel and real lives.

Deol in the 1993 movie ‘Damini’ had vented his anger at the judicial system with the iconic dialogue, while Bhaumik has been fighting the cycle of ‘tareekh pe tareekh’ for his salary since the last eight months.

Bhoumik, until last month, worked at a furniture factory under Shalimar Steel Works, owned by a former Trinamool MP’s family. One of the directors of the company, Nandita Choudhary, is contesting from Howrah Dakshin (south) seat on a TMC ticket this election. Howrah will vote on 10 April.

Factory workers said Choudhary has the resources to fight elections, but no money to pay their dues.

“She has money to fight the assembly election, but doesn’t have money to pay the salary of labourers, who are living hand-to-mouth. We have spent so many years working in their factories. The situation is such that neither we can leave the factory nor can we seek another job as our money is stuck. How much money can we borrow to run our house?” said Bhoumik.

“We were getting assurances and dates after dates since the last eight months, but did not get the salary. Every time, a new tareekh was given for payment. How will we survive? We exhausted all our savings. How will we pay the fees of our children?” said Bhoumik, who has exhausted all his provident fund and LIC savings and is now surviving on loans borrowed from friends and relatives. 

Bhoumik’s colleague Mohamad Fakruddin, who used to work at an iron frame manufacturing factory of the same company, has a similar story. 

He has not been paid his salary since the last four months. Many workers have stopped working at the factory, a part of which is shut since the last few years.

“Since the last four months, our life has become miserable. We don’t have money to run the house. During Covid, no one lent us money. Either the owner gives us employment or pays our salary,” said Fakruddin.

Like Bhoumik and Fakruddin, there are many workers who have not had their salaries for several months.

Shalimar Steel Works has two manufacturing units — one for modular furniture and another for making iron frames. The company has been operational since 1956.

Choudhary is contesting against BJP’s Rantidev Sengupta, former editor of popular Bengali daily Bartaman and the party’s head of Bengal intellectual cell.

ThePrint reached Choudhary through repeated phone calls for a comment on the matter of non-payment of wages, but she didn’t answer her phone till the time of publishing this report.

Also read: Why Didi Mamata has become daughter of Bengal

The family business

Choudhary is the daughter of former TMC MP late Ambika Banerjee, who represented the Howrah central assembly seat from 1982 to 2006. Banerjee was with the Congress for three decades before joining the TMC. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 on a TMC ticket. He was also the deputy opposition leader in the state assembly during the Left Front rule from 1996 to 2006. He died of cancer in 2013.

The factories ran smoothly till Banerjee was at the helm of affairs, but after his death, a part of the iron factory was shut. 

The company has three directors, all family members of Banerjee — Munmun Banerjee (his brother’s wife), Ayan Banerjee (his brother’s son) and Nandita Choudhary.

“There are three directors in the company, one wants to run the company, another doesn’t want to, but what is our fault? When our patience ran out, we stopped working,” said Bhoumik.

Biswajeet Mondal, another worker in the furniture factory whose wages are also due, told ThePrint, “The last time we spoke to directors about our salary was on 30 March. One of the directors wanted to settle the payment, but the other two said the matter will now reach the court.”

A manager of the company, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint the owners are not interested in running the company and when Ambika ji was alive, this kind of situation had never come up.

Sukanto Bhattacharya, associate professor in Calcutta University, said, “Many factories have been shut in the Howrah-Hooghly area due to various factors such as lack of interest by promoters, lack of modernisation and lack of a business-friendly environment. Workers are demanding their money, they are not getting new employment. This needs to change.”

Also read: Job-starved Bengal wants employment & not free ration, says Mamata shouldn’t have let Tatas go

Campaign heating up in Howrah Dakshin  

The election campaigning is heating up in Howrah Dakshin. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a rally in one of the constituencies in Howrah. Last week, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also campaigned in Howrah’s Uluberia.

BJP is banking on the 40 per cent Hindi-speaking population in Howrah Dakshin, but TMC, which won this seat in 2016 and in 2019 polls, is confident of winning again with the help of more than 50 per cent Bengalis and 18 per cent Muslims.

BJP candidate Sengupta was once in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s good books. But after he retired, he joined the BJP.

The party fielded Sengupta in Howrah in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls against sitting TMC MP Prasun Banerjee, also a former footballer. Sengupta got more than 4,73,000 votes, but lost by one lakh votes. He was initially unwilling to contest the assembly polls, but after RSS intervention, he agreed, said BJP sources.

“The fight will depend on the polling day, how our booth management works and how we are able to rein in TMC goons,” said Sengupta.

TMC sources said Choudhary is banking on her father’s legacy and the relationship cultivated by her father with voters in the last five decades.

TMC district president Bhaskar Bhattacharya said the seat is a TMC stronghold and Ambika Banerjee’s legacy will help Choudhary win, and BJP has no chance.

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: Bengal has made up its mind, Mamata is on her way out: BJP chief Nadda


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