November 24, 2012

WEST BENGAL CITU Calls for Vigorous Struggle

HOWRAH, 12th November: THE 10th state conference of CITU West Bengal committee has vowed to launch a vigorous struggle to defend the rights of the workers in the state. A programme to mobilise wider sections of workers in defense of the gains that are being attacked now in the state has been formulated from the conference.

The state conference was held at Comrade Jyoti Basu Nagar (Howrah) and Comrade M K Pandhe Manch (Sarat Sadan) during November 8 - 11, 2012.  The conference was  inaugurated by A K Padmanabhan, president of CITU, after hoisting the Red flag and offering floral tributes to the martyrs.

In his inaugural speech, Padmanabhan said the CITU would, jointly with other trade unions, resist the onslaught on the people launched by the UPA-II government in the name of economic reforms. Referring to the severe attacks against the workers in West Bengal in the changed political situation, the CITU leader expressed confidence that the workers of West Bengal will play their historical role in the present situation like in the earlier days.

Padmanabhan said the Indian economic policy regime has undergone a right wing shift since the introduction of neo-liberal economic policies. The union government is acting under the dictates of the Word Bank and the chambers of commerce in order to make the labour laws of the country flexible. He warned that the trade unions would strongly resist such an attempt. Already the multinational companies are not implementing the existing labour laws. They are brazenly restricting the workers from participating in the trade unions. Even the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people are being undermined by the big corporate and MNCs. The union government is a mere spectator to these violations. In such a scenario if the labour laws are further diluted, the workers will be subject to maximum exploitation.

Padmanabhan emphasised the necessity of protection of the trade union rights along with ensuring of the social security, control of price hike and universal public distribution system. He said that CITU has always been in favour of the united workers movement from its class outlook. After travelling a long path, all the central trade unions have called for a 48-hour countrywide general strike on the 20th and 21st February 2013. This has happened for the first time in the history of independent India. The trade unions will launch a vigorous campaign to make the general strike successful and informed that a march to parliament will be held on 20th December to highlight the demands of the working class.

Kali Ghosh, secretary of CITU West Bengal state committee placed the report in the conference. While placing the report he said that the workers movement of the state is facing various attacks during the tenure of the Trinamool Congress government. He said the situation is so bad that the chief minister refused to meet their delegation that sought to submit a memorandum about the growing attacks on trade unions in West Bengal.

Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, in his speech exposed the anti-people nature of the neo-liberal policies being implemented by the union government and emphasised the need for a united struggle against these policies.

In the context of growing number of unorganised sector workers and contractual workers, the 10th state conference emphasised on their problems and issues in detail and outlined the path of future programmes. Special discussions were held on these two aspects.
The delegates in the conference discussed the issue of the contractual labour in detail, especially the growing attack on the labour laws of the country in the name of labour market flexibility. How the neo liberal globalisation policies are impacting the working class people of West Bengal was also discussed in particular. The organisation has decided to observe 12th December 2012 as the demand day for the contractual workers. The workers shall unitedly hold their protest in front of the offices of the department of labour in all the districts. The delegates also pointed out the lethargy of the state government in implementing the social security and welfare programmes initiated by the earlier Left Front government. The delegates exchanged their experiences of the struggle against the terror attacks against the trade union movement by the Trinamool backed hooligans. The delegates expressed confidence of taking on this challenge in the wake of the historic success in the state of the 28th February all India general strike called by the central trade unions. The delegates underlined the importance of consolidating various streams of worker movements in order to achieve the political goals.

The 10th state conference elected the new CITU West Bengal state committee. Shaymal Chakraborty has been re-elected as the president and Dipak Dasgupta has been elected as the secretary.

On the concluding day of the conference, on 11th November, the  rally was held at Dumurjala in Howrah. The rally turned out to be a mammoth one. Addressing the rally, former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said a desperate situation is prevailing in the state in which farmers are unable to sell produce and industrialists are shying away from investing in the state. “The government failed to attract a single fresh investment. IT majors Wipro and Infosys, who came here during the Left rule, are now thinking of leaving the state,” said Bhattacharjee.

Slamming the government for taking the state towards an industrial disaster in absence of a clear policy, Bhattacharjee referred to how Singur has now become a desert. “Had the car manufacturing factory come up there, about 5000 to 6000 people would have got jobs. Hooghly’s profile would have been different by now, if our plan to bring industry to Singur was not thwarted. At Haldia, one cargo-handling agency was driven out to give way to a company run by a Trinamool Congress MP. This state is gradually moving towards industrial doomsday.”

Bhattacharjee said that the transport workers and the whole transport sector of the state are in a deplorable condition. Most private transport vehicles are lying idle as the agencies are becoming incapable of managing the cost of the business. Transport workers are not getting salaries, pensions, and are compelled to resort to suicides. This is the crude reality of the state where the salaries of ministers in the TMC-led government had gone up from Rs 7000 during the Left Front rule to Rs 27,000 now. And the government is acting as a sleeping beauty, he criticised.

Bhattacharjee also highlighted the farmers’ misery saying they are finding it difficult to sell their crop as the “price they are getting is uneconomical”. Explaining the current labour scenario of the country. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sharply criticised the Manmohan Singh government for incessantly taking anti-people decisions that have severely affected the working population of the country.

November 14, 2012

Tutu Bose and the Haldia mess

A look at the man, his business and his political affiliations

Shine Jacob & Ishita Ayan Dutt / Kolkata
Business Standard, November 13, 2012, 0:40 IST

When ABG Shipyard recently said that it was exiting the Haldia docks of the Kolkata Port Trust, it blamed "vested interests" for causing a great loss to the national exchequer. Haldia Bulk Terminals, a joint venture between homegrown ABG Infralogistics and French company Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, had been contracted to operate two mechanised berths, but, it alleged, cargo was diverted to the expensive manual berths. While Haldia Bulk Terminals charged the Kolkata Port Trust Rs 75 per tonne of cargo, the manual berths charged Rs 150 and above. That was the loss to the exchequer the company was referring to; what about the vested interests?

The vested interests the company was alluding to is Ripley & Co promoted by Swapan Sadhan Bose, aka Tutu Bose or Tutuda, a familiar face in Kolkata's business circuit, but little known about. In a press release issued on September 28, Haldia Bulk Terminals accused Ripley of fomenting trouble at the docks. Ripley, incorporated in 1946, operates seven manual berths at Haldia, which together handle almost 50 per cent of the non-mechanised cargo at Haldia.

In 2010, when Haldia Bulk Terminals signed an agreement with the Kolkata Port Trust to operate two mechanized berths till 2020, it unknowingly encroached into what is Bose's territory, the Haldia Dock Complex. Friend-turned-foe and former Tamluk MP Lakshman Seth, who was also the chairman of the Haldia Development Authority, has alleged that onshore operations at Haldia are handled by Bose without any competitive bidding for several decades, flouting all rules of the Indian Port Trust Act. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former chief minister of West Bengal, said on Sunday: "At Haldia, one cargo-handling agency was driven out to give way to a company run by a Trinamool Congress MP." The lawmaker he was referring to was unmistakably Srinjoy, Bose's son.

  • Age: 64 
  • Education: Commerce graduate from St Xavier's College, Kolkata 
  • Business: Cargo-handling, customs clearance, stevedoring, operation & maintenance of berths, mining, transportation, exports, news publication and radio 
  • Clients: Steel Authority of India, Tata Steel, Tata Chemicals, Rungta Mines, Balmer Lawrie, Kolkata Port Trust, among others  
  • Turnover: Company website lists a turnover of Rs 300 crore for 2008-09 
  • Mission: To provide quality service to customers and strive to enhance international trade 
  • Political links: Former Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal, close to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee; son Srinjoy is a Rajya Sabha member from the Trinamool Congress

People connected to Haldia, even remotely, know that Bose has a virtual monopoly on its onshore operations. That's perhaps why Haldia Bulk Terminals has said that it found the going tough right from the beginning. The fight over cargo spilled into the public domain in August this year when Haldia Bulk Terminals wrote to the Kolkata Port Trust accusing it of failing to make good on its promise of cargo, resulting in the company finding it hard to keep its two berths operational. (Haldia Bulk Terminals had invested Rs 160 crore on the equipment for the two berths; its accumulated losses stood at Rs 60 crore.) The company said it would be forced to suspend operations if the cargo allocation didn't change. In fact, it stopped work soon after that. The Kolkata Port Trust, in turn, moved the Calcutta High Court seeking a direction to Haldia Port Terminal to resume work. The court agreed but asked the Kolkata Port Trust to look into Haldia Bulk Terminals' plea for more cargo. Work resumed but any attempts to divert cargo from the non-mechanised berths were resisted by workers from the manual berths. Labour, in West Bengal, has always been a highly emotive issue. A bigger stumbling block for Haldia Bulk Terminals couldn't have happened.

A month later, the company began to take names openly. The September 28 press statement from Haldia Bulk Terminals read: "After being assured by the Kolkata Port Trust that it was safe to work inside HDC (Haldia Dock Complex), Haldia Bulk Terminals made an attempt to resume operation today. Haldia Bulk Terminals’ employees and port officials were attacked by a mob of about 400 persons while working inside the port. Former Haldia Bulk Terminals employees, Cargo pool and Ripley's employees were clearly identified among the mob." A section of the Kolkata Port Trust officials had also alleged that Ripley had written a letter to its employees on September 14 that if additional cargo was allocated to Haldia Bulk Terminals, according to the Calcutta High Court order, then the company may have to go for retrenchment of workers. The sequence of events thereafter is well known.

Ripley, however, is just one of Bose's many companies; there are many outfits — from stevedoring and cargo-handling to transport — owned by Bose that rule over Haldia. According to Ripley's website, it is the flagship of a large group that has diversified businesses like cargo-handling, customs clearance, stevedoring, operation and maintenance of berth, mining, transportation, exports and news publication. Its mission, as declared on the website, is "to provide quality services to customers and grow as one of the leading logistics organisations in India. It also desires to utilise expertise for enhancing international trade." Several attempts to reach Ripley, Bose, and his son, Shoumik, who is in charge of Ripley operations, proved futile. A questionnaire sent to Bose and Ripley's official email address didn’t elicit any response; a visit to the Ripley office didn’t yield any result.

The Ripley group's turnover in 2008-09 was Rs 300 crore. It's anybody's guess how big Bose's empire is today. The family-owned E C Bose & Company has just completed 160 years in stevedoring. Bose has today expanded his port operations across Paradeep, Vishakhapatnam, Tuticorin and Chennai. While stevedoring and cargo handling is the cash cow, the business interests are diverse. A Kolkata-based industrialist says that Bose has been allotted some agricultural land in Ethiopia. In Dubai, where Bose spends more than half his time now, he runs Radio Asia Network and Dolphin Recording Studio. The radio network — Radio Asia (AM) in Malayalam, Suno 1024 (FM) in Hindi/Urdu and Super 947 (FM) in Malayalam and Tamil — reaches out to Indians in West Asia. The interest in media is not new, though. The initial diversification for Bose happened through Bengali newspaper Sangbad Pratidin in August 1992. Though not the official mouthpiece of the Trinamool Congress, it is considered to be a good cousin. In the mid-1990s, he launched the Kolkata edition of The Asian Age, which he exited towards the end of the decade by selling a 74 per cent stake to Vijay Mallya.

Much like business interests, Bose's political affiliation has also varied over the years. In the early years, Bose was known to be close to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and was said to have some business ties with late Jyoti Basu's son, Chandan Basu. It was during those times that Bose acquired a 74 per cent stake in state-owned Niramoy Polyclinic (now AMRI) along with S K Todi, also known for his Left leanings. It was given on lease to the consortium. Later, in 1996, Bose sold his stake to Emami. (This hospital was in news last December when a fire there killed 91 people; Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee retaliated by arresting six Marwari directors of the hospital.) But not just the communists, Bose maintained close ties with the Congress as well. "He always had great contacts. When I had some issues with my business, he offered help to resolve it and that was much before he joined the Trinamool Congress," an industrialist recalls.

Bose crossed over to the Trinamool Congress in early 2000. It was his political ambition that made him do so and he is Banerjee's man for all seasons. In 2005, he became a Member of Parliament, backed by the Trinamool Congress, and since then there has been no looking back. Today, Bose is pretty much considered to be the economic backbone of the party that runs a cash-strapped state. His son, Srinjoy, has taken his place in the Rajya Sabha from the Trinamool Congress.

Though Bose keeps his business interests low-key, he flaunts his affiliation with the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club. For decades he has been the president of the club. It was his initiative to bring in Mallya who now owns the club. "I used to think Tutu owns the club," an industrialist says. Though the recent fiasco has brought Bose's port operations to the fore, for all the wrong reasons, people who operate at Haldia describe him as "a smart, effective businessman who knows how to get his work done".         

November 9, 2012

Police report contradicts Mamata Banerjee's claim on Birbhum violence

TNN | Nov 9, 2012, 03.27AM IST

A preliminary police report on the violence that broke out in Birbhum's Loba village in West Bengal on Tuesday demolishes Mamata Banerjee's claim that the operation was planned by the district police on its own and the government was not aware of it.

KOLKATA/BIRBHUM: A preliminary police report on the violence that broke out in Birbhum's Loba village in West Bengal on Tuesday demolishes chief minister Mamata Banerjee's claim that the operation was planned by the district police on its own and the government was not aware of it.

Taking cue from the police report, a section of Birbhum police also alleged that it was industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who had insisted that the police recover Bengal-Emta's earthmover lying idle in the village. Some of the police officers claimed Chatterjee had called up now-shunted SP Hrishikesh Meena on October 24 and asked him to expedite the recovery. Later, Trinamool minister from the district Chandranath Sinha and party Birbhum president Anubrata Mandal kept up the pressure. Loba villagers alleged Mandal had accompanied the police force to the village at the break of dawn on Tuesday. Mandal, however, said he was in Kolkata at the time.

Chatterjee, too, denied the charge after a detailed discussion with the CM on Thursday. "I did not give any direction, neither did anyone from my department or the government give any direction. Investing officers can check my call records. The investigation is on. Everything will be exposed. I reiterate that the CPM has a hand in the violence. I can provide evidence to substantiate the claim. Dubrajpur villagers will meet me tomorrow," he said. He added that Maoists could also have had a role in the incident.

Sensing the political repercussions of the case, the chief minister has decided to meet a delegation of Loba villagers on Friday.

The blame game apart, IG (western range) Gangeswar Singh, in his preliminary report to ADG (law & order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha, has put on record the procedures that the district police followed before they went ahead with the final operation. The procedural communication and district intelligence report that was sought for days before the operation leaves beyond doubt that officials in the state administration were kept posted from time to time. A section of the Birbhum police also claimed that the accused SP had sent text messages to the police top brass, including director general of police Naparajit Mukherjee, on the day of the incident at 6.22 am. The fact that senior police officers had planned for a worst-case scenario is evident from their sending an executive magistrate with the police force to the spot, a step that is mandatory for taking action including firing.

Even the political bosses were aware of the ground realities. Chatterjee had a first-hand experience of the tension building up in Loba when he visited the village in July. Later, he met representatives of Loba villagers and PDS secretary Samir Putatunda in the Assembly where the agitators promised to allow Bengal-Emta to take away the machinery if the government helped in sorting out the impasse. In September, villager Felaram Mandal wrote to the CM urging her intervention in the matter. It didn't catch the CM's attention.

A Left Front delegation led by CPM's Anisur Rahman visited Loba on Thursday, but were cold-shouldered by the villagers. "The problem started during the Left Front rule. Since then we have knocked on the doors of all political parties — CPM, Congress and Trinamool Congress. All of them assured us that they would take up the cause but didn't do anything," the agitators said.

It’s TMC vs TMC in West Bengal’s latest land row

Madhuparna Das
Indian Express, Posted online: Thu Nov 08 2012, 02:54 hrs

Dubrajpur, Birbhum : The violence in Dubrajpur in Bengal’s Birbhum district by villagers protesting against land acquisition by a private coal mining company has a strong resemblance to similar campaigns in Singur and Nandigram. Like in those two places, here too suspected Naxalite activists played a key role and joined hands with a range of political outfits in the ‘Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee’ (KJRC) or Save Agricultural Land Committee that led the protests.

However, in a significant difference, the local unit of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress is sharply divided over the controversy. While one faction of the party is with the KJRC, another is said to have been helping the mining firm acquire land. This faction was regularly interacting with the firm’s officials at their office in Dubrajpur which has been closed since mid-September.

Hundreds of villagers armed with bows, arrows and crude bombs had attacked a police contingent in Loba village near Dubrajpur in the early hours of Tuesday when they went there to remove earth-moving equipment of the mining firm, Bengal EMTA. The equipment was used by Bengal EMTA for excavation about a year ago but had been lying idle after the villagers protested. More than 25 policemen were injured and some villagers claimed to have suffered bullet injuries.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday denied the police had opened fire but ordered an administrative inquiry into the incident. She described the incident as “unfortunate” and said the villagers were provoked by outside elements. The inquiry will reveal who provoked the villagers, she added. “The state government is with the villagers and the state government’s declared policy is not to acquire land for private parties. The villagers were not at fault because some of them were provoked,” Banerjee said.

On Wednesday, when The Indian Express visited Loba, the villagers had dug trenches across the main roads leading to the village to stop police and other officials from entering - a repeat of the tactics used in Nandigram. KJRC members and some other villagers were well-prepared for Tuesday’s trouble as they had stocked bows, arrows, crude bombs and some other traditional weapons as they had been tipped off about the police action, sources said.

Many villagers whose land had been acquired were unhappy with their compensation and had held on to the earth-moving equipment for the last 11 months, hoping to force Bengal EMTA into fresh deals. KJRC leader Asish Mishra said that Naxalite group CPI (ML) and other political groups such as the Party for Democratic Socialism were present in the village and were part of the protests for the last three years.

Bengal EMTA had proposed to acquire 3,353 acres of land spread over 11 villages and a population of 20,000 for the open-cast mine project. But villagers alleged that there was no proper rehabilitation planned for the displaced and claimed that they had raised this about four months back when state commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee visited the area. Chatterjee had reportedly promised to take up the issue with the mining firm. The minister visited Loba again Wednesday and promised the villagers he would take up the issue with Bengal EMTA.

A company official, however, said there was no room for new negotiations on the price paid for the land. The company has so far paid Rs 4 lakh per acre of river-bank land, Rs 8 lakh per acre of one-crop farmland, and Rs 10 lakh per acre of multi-crop farmland. It has acquired 500 acres from private owners and another 200 acres from the government. The company would abandon the project but not renegotiate the land price, said the official who did not want to be identified.

November 1, 2012

ABG pulls out of Haldia on safety concerns

Cites safety of employees as reason for pullout after the abduction of three officials at gunpoint last Sunday

BS Reporter / Kolkata, November 1, 2012, 0:41 IST

West Bengal today saw a Singur re-run, with private cargo handler ABG Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) pulling out of Haldia.

Although many projects in the state are in limbo, this is the first major pullout after Tata Motors’s decision to move out of West Bengal in October 2008. What may have precipitated into the move was Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s “dissatisfaction”. Banerjee had claimed on Tuesday that “nothing has happened” at Haldia, when asked about the abduction of three HBT officials. She labelled it a conspiracy of a section of the media and the Communist Part of India (Marxist).

The company’s counsel today informed the Calcutta High Court that the company would terminate its operations in Haldia. ABG has also written to the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), seeking termination of its 10-year contract with the port.

Other projects that have been terminated or are yet to be completed
Rs cr
 Projects stuck
JSW Steel Ltd's
Salboni plant
Videocon Steel plant
Bhushan Steel project
Jai Balaji Steel project
Kulpi Port project
NTPC Katwa project
1, 800
Infosys and Wipro
 Projects scrapped
Haripur Nuclear project
PCPIR Nayachar
Singur Tata Nano
Source: RBI

The move would put 350 jobs in jeopardy. The company will also approach the court seeking compensation for the losses that it suffered at Haldia, including the amount it paid for security. Tata Motors had also asked for compensation from the state government for its losses at Singur.

The immediate trigger was the abduction of three HBT officials — Manpreet Jolly, Jagadish Behara and Bushan Patil, including his wife and one-year-old daughter — at gunpoint last Sunday by an unidentified mob, allegedly backed by the TMC. Although they were later released, the officials were told “not to come back to Haldia”. This happened even after the firm paid more than Rs 17 lakh for the deployment of police personnel towards restoration of peace, based on a Calcutta High Court order.

“The safety and security of our employees is of paramount importance and above business interests. We have to inform you that we have been left with no option, but to walk out from Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) with immediate effect. We cannot work in an environment where the authorities responsible for ensuring the law and order and success of the project have openly renounced and abandoned their responsibilities,” said Gurpreet Malhi, chief executive officer, HBT.

Responding to this, a senior port official said on condition of anonymity: “If the state government cannot give protection, what can the port do?”

According to Malhi, HBT has made an accumulated loss of Rs 60 crore from Haldia operations, and that it has so far invested Rs 150 crore since inception.

KoPT was getting a net gain of Rs 150 per tonne vis-a-vis only Rs 25 per tonne from other berths. Therefore, suspension of HBT’s operations will imply an immediate revenue decrease of 75 per cent on dry bulk amounting to Rs 90 crore a year for HDC.

Last year, Haldia Dock handled 17 mt of dry bulk cargo, which is already down by two mt this year.

Trouble started since September, when HBT decided to suspend its operations from September 8, seeking more cargo from KoPT. However, following a court direction, it had to reach an agreement with the port.

According to the agreement, all vessels carrying dry bulk cargo arriving at HDC will be allocated to HBT berths No. 2 and 8, and if these berths are engaged, vessels will be allocated to other berths.

Things took a violent turn once the firm stopped operations on September 24 citing political unrest and retrenched 275 people on grounds of an oversized payroll of 650 and loss in operations.

There was resistance from the TMC-backed INTTUC, which said that it will not allow the firm to resume work, unless the retrenched workers were taken back.

“We were instrumental in revival of the Haldia Dock through the mechanisation of berths, which has resulted in a more than three-fold increase in productivity to more than 20,000 tonnes per day/per berth. Now, we regret our decision to go to Haldia. The economy of West Bengal has once again been denied the opportunity of growth, modernisation and development,” said Malhi.