Kolkata: State-owned iconic wagon-maker Burn Standard Thursday suspended work at its factory in West Bengal’s Howrah town and lodged a police complaint naming five people including Trinamool Congress leaders for a purported assault on two of its officials. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, dismissed reports of any assault.
“We have sent a letter to the government and lodged an FIR (first information report) Wednesday night following the assault on Santanu Sarkar and Debashish Bhattacharya, both senior company officials. Also, a suspension notice has been put up in the Howrah plant,” said deputy general manager for personnel relations G.H. Nag.
The company’s other unit in Burnpur of Burdwan district was functioning normally, he said. “Another group of workers lawfully affiliated with a trade union in the company wants work to resume in Howrah,” he said.
The alleged altercation took place Wednesday as the officials went to make peace with around 175 agitating contractors’ workers, affiliated with the state’s ruling party Trinamool Congress, who were demanding since Feb 11 they be absorbed in the company.
“The protesters are not affiliated to any party banner and don’t have a trade union registration. However, some of the workers from that group have been putting up Trinamool-affiliated INTTUC banners. The hunger strike of these workers is also illegal as no prior notice was served,” he said.
Nag said the suspension of work will affect nearly 840 personnel in the company, one of the oldest in the country. It has 240 officials and workers under direct payroll and another 600 under the contract system. The company presently has two contractors for wagon projects and another four for other work.
Asked about the time-frame of the work suspension notice, Nag said: “It is hard to say how long it will drag on but it will affect the 600 causal staff as it will imply loss of pay. The regular permanent workers won’t be affected much but we all want to resume operations.”
The chief minister claimed there were only heated arguments between the officials and the workers. “I have cross-checked thrice from various sources, there was no assault. Yes, there were heated arguments with the management after 175 workers were laid off. The workers have been agitating for some days and there was some heated debate, but no violence took place,” Banerjee said.
Saying that the British-era company had retrenched 175 workers, Banerjee said she has directed the state chief secretary to hold talks with company officials for withdrawing the suspension of work. “They have suddenly declared cessation of work, this is not appropriate. If so many workers lose jobs at one go, naturally there would be agitation. But then both the parties must be lenient and try to resolve the matter,” she said. Trinamool leader Gautam Chowdhury, whose name figures in the police complaint, also rubbished the allegations made by the public sector firm.
“When we went to talk to the (company) general manager, he immediately called in his personal security staff and asked us to leave saying he doesn’t want to talk to us. As we were leaving (the meeting room), the general manager also left with us and straightaway left (the place),” Chowdhury said. The opposition hit out at Banerjee for trying to downplay the incident and accused her of hurting the industrial scenario in the state.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit president Rahul Sinha said Banerjee’s comments will “embolden criminals”. Echoing a similar view, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Surjya Kanta Mishra wondered “if investors would be inclined to put their money in Bengal”.
Congress leader Abdul Mannan added: “Instead of taking action against the culprits, she is speaking as if she is their spokesperson. If the chief minister herself denies any such incident, will police ever dare to take action against the culprits?” Burn & Company was formed in 1781 at Howrah. In 1976, following nationalisation, the company was amalgamated with the Indian Standard Wagon Company and renamed Burn Standard Company Limited.