Six people have been arrested for lynching the chief executive officer of a jute mill in West Bengal's Hooghly district, police said on Monday, an incident that has brought back memories of militant trade unionism under the state's communist rulers that scared away industry.
HK Maheswari, CEO of North Brook Jute Mill in Bhadreswar, was beaten to death by factory workers demanding an increase in weekly working hours that would have allowed them more pay.
The arrests were made following the orders of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who has alleged the involvement of BJP and CPI-M affiliated trade union members in the attack.
Of the six arrested, two each belonged to the BJP-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and CPI-M's Centre of Indian Trade Unions. The unions have denied any involvement.
More arrests were likely soon as an FIR over the incident mentions 200 unnamed people apart from 12 who have been identified, superintendent of police Sunil Chowdhury said.
Maheswari had denied earlier request by employees to work and be paid for 40 hours a week at the North Brook Jute Mill, instead of the current norm of 25. He had also proposed shutting down the mill for three days a week to limit mounting financial losses, according to the factory's general manager, Kiranjit Singh.
"The mill workers suddenly resorted to stone pelting while we were busy in a meeting," Kiranjit Singh said. At one point during Sunday's meeting, Maheswari looked out the window at the growing crowd and was struck in the head by two stones. He collapsed, at which point a large group of workers stormed the office, Singh said.
"The CEO was thrashed with iron rods, and he succumbed to his injuries very soon," Singh said. Both the general manager and a security guard were hospitalized for injuries and later released, while Maheswari died on the way to a hospital, police said.
Meanwhile, work at the mill has been suspended indefinitely. A funeral was planned for Tuesday for Maheswari, who is survived by his wife, two grown daughters and a son.
The incident will likely have a negative impact on industry in the state which has been seeking investment to create millions of jobs for its burgeoning youth population, according to North Brook owner Prakash Choraria.
The jute industry has been suffering from poor financial conditions amid declining demand and labour issues.
"As it is, the state policy on land acquisition for industry and SEZ are a clear dampener… The minimum investors can expect is security. How else does one think of investing here?" a businessman told HT on condition of anonymity because the person feared persecution by the government.
Cargo handler Haldia Bulk Terminals, subsidiary of a French shipping company, had pulled out of West Bengal in 2012 following the alleged abduction and assault of three of its employees. The chief minister had dubbed the incident as exaggerated.
(With inputs from Agencies)