Malwa: Two decades on, no end to mill workers’ plight

  • Punya Priya Mitra, Hindustan Times, Indore
  • Updated: May 05, 2015 18:59 IST

The endless legal battle between the creditors of three closed textile mills in Madhya Pradesh’s Malwa region and the state government over the ownership of the land, has put the lives of 12,000 workers at stake.

The government is fighting land ownership battles with the creditors of Hukumchand Mill of Indore, Vinod Mill in Ujjain and Bharat Commerce Mill in Nagda since two decades.

Many workers have died without receiving their payment and many more may meet the similar fate if the matter dragged on for another 10 years, industry sources said, adding the government’s stand was only blocking the payment to the workers and the creditors.

Trader associations blamed the state government for turning a legal battle into a war of prestige (ego), ignoring the fact that its stand was indirectly affecting the financial condition of thousands of workers.

The test case

Official records show that in the case of Hukumchand and Vinod mills, the payment of workers’ dues appears to be a distant dream as the state government’s claim on the respective pieces of land is only delaying their disposal and the subsequent payments.

Hukumchand Mill, with about 6000 workers, was closed down in 1991. T

he Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) and the state government staked their claim on the 42.49 acre land in the Indore bench of the high court.

Meanwhile, the banks which had lent money to the mill moved the debt recovery tribunal (DRT) in Mumbai for realisation of their payments through liquidation of assets.

In March 2014, the single bench of the high court ruled that the land belonged to the IMC and denied permission to the state government to file a civil suit before the district court to claim the ownership of the land.

But, the state government, through the industries department, appealed against the single bench order before the divisional bench in September 2014.

Attempts by the DRT to sell off the land through e-auction also failed because the state government carried advertisements saying that it was the owner of the land, which deterred potential buyer.

Even now an e-auction is going on which ends on May 5 and so far no potential buyer has turned up to see the mill land.

Meanwhile, just before the municipal elections in February this year, the chief minister formed a committee comprising Indore collector, IMC commissioner and a representative of the industries department to find a way out so that the dues of the workers and creditors could be paid.

But, there hasn’t been any headway even after two crucial meetings in this respect.

Principal secretary, industries department Mohammad Suleman said, “So far we have been unable to come out with a viable proposal for the land that is acceptable to all the parties.”

Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) leader Harman Singh Dhaliwal blamed the government for the delay in the payment of the workers’ dues which has been pegged at Rs 229 crores plus interest.

“The government says it has the interest of the workers at heart, then why is it repeatedly staking claim on the land and complicating things?” Dhaliwal argued.

The story at Vinod Mills, Ujjain is no different either.

The mill was closed in 1993 and the claim of 4500 workers to the tune of Rs 59.5 crores had to be settled.

Long drawn battle

Advocate Dheeraj Pawar, who represented the workers in the high court, said, “In 2003, the land and the machinery were sold for around Rs 10 crore and the workers got only 17.7 % of their dues. The remaining amount had to come by selling the 90 bigha and 44 biswa of mill land (roughly 52 acres). On January 24, 2004, a single bench of the high court gave liquidator the permission to sell the land, but the government filed an appeal in the division bench and got a stay in April 2004. The case has been dragging since then and the last hearing was in November 2014.”

Meanwhile, in July 11, 2014, the Ujjain additional collector in a bid to make the claim of the state on the mill land stronger passed an order saying that the land was vested in the government.

“We immediately challenged this order in the high court, and got a stay on the order on September 4, 2014,” advocate Pawar said.

But the workers are nowhere near getting their dues. They have appealed for an early settlement as around 1141 workers have already died.

The fate of the 1800 workers of Nagda’s Bharat Commerce and Industries is no different. The unit was closed in June 2000 and it went into liquidation in June 2005.

But here also, in September 2014, the additional collector passed an order saying that the land belonged to the government and the tehsildar took possession of the land and also changed the land records.

INTUC state vice-president Sultan Singh, who is closely following the case, said that around 150 acre of unencroached land was bought by Grasim Industries for Rs 40 crores and the plant and machinery, purchased by a scrap dealer from Ahmedabad went for Rs 14 crores.

Meanwhile, on March 27, 2015, a single bench of the high court in Indore directed the official liquidator to disburse Rs 2.4 crore to the creditors and workers, which would amount to around 80% of the dues.

But, in this case also the government is planning to appeal against the ruling. Nagda sub-divisional magistrate Rajeev Ranjan Meena said, “We are aware of the order, and we are seeking a legal opinion for appropriate action.”

Asked why the government was insisting on claiming the mill land, principal secretary, industries, Mohammad Suleman said the government had a claim to the land and even if it had lost some cases in the high court, in the matter of title claims, it had to be settled by the Supreme Court.

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