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More than 24 hours after the lynching of the Northbrook Jute Mill CEO, HK Maheshwari, the heart of the jute belt in Bengal appears to be sitting on a powder keg.
The police have arrested five workers and a gatekeeper in connection with the murder.
But the workers in Dalhousie, Angus, Victoria and Shyamnugur North jute mills — all located nearby — show no sympathy for the murdered CEO. Instead, they are visibly angry; alleging exploitation by mill authorities and inaction of the government.
“You people (the media) come here only after an officer gets killed. I have worked as a casual labourer for 27 years. Ask babus why I have not been made permanent yet?” asks Md Kalammudin, a worker.
He is among the 1.5 lakh casual workers hired by the 55 jute mills in West Bengal.
But 28 of these mills are facing losses so huge that the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) is looking into their workings trying to find a way to save them or they have applied for liquidation through court.
According to jute industry activist Naba Dutta, about 40% of the mills are not under the control of the Indian Jute Mill Owners’ Association (IJMA) and regularly violated all norms regarding workers’ rights.
“It’s a very badly run industry. They do not adhere to any of established practice of industry,” Sourin Roy, former chief secretary of West Bengal, told HT. “You won’t believe what I found during the Baranagar inquiry. The mill was owned by the gatekeeper and he bought it at Rs. 1!”
However, without looking into workers rights political parties have begun blaming each other.