September 08, 2019

AP: CITU Opposes Closure of Chittivalasa Jute Mill

Ch Narasinga Rao

THE CITU was successful in getting a stay order from the AP High Court against the closure of Chittivalasa Jute Mill. Interestingly, the memorandum of understanding for closure of the mill was arrived between the management of the mill and four workers union, viz., INTUC, AITUC, TNTUC and YSRTUC. The CITU had opposed this agreement and had promised to continue with the struggle. The agreement was arrived on July 24, 2019.

Precluding the signing of the memorandum, a joint meeting was held in the circuit house in Visakhapatnam on July 9 in which all the trade unions participated including CITU. While all the other unions agreed for the closure, the CITU opposed it. The YSRCP government in the state of AP and other trade unions had collided with the management. The management on the pretext of closure is inclined to convert 70 acres of prime land, next to the national highway into a real estate project. The plan is to sell off this land whose price is more than Rs 700 crores.

The management is interested to just pay meagre wages to the workers and hand over the land to real estate sharks. The CITU conducted sustained agitation and struggles by involving general public. These struggles include: 35 kilometres padayatra from Chittivalasa jute mill to Visakhapatnam, in which hundreds of workers participated on February 15, 2019.

There was a prolonged struggle in the past to ensure that the mill is not converted into a real estate project. Chittivalasa Jute Mill Mechanical Workers and Workers Union of CITU planned for an indefinite agitation. Relay hunger strike for 10 days was launched. Public meeting was conducted on January 17, 2019 at Chittivalasa Jute Mill grounds and a dharna at jute mill junction on January 27. A rally was organised on July 13. After a big campaign in the villages of jute workers, the national highway was blocked by conducting a rasta roko, in which 65 leaders were arrested by the police. It was in this background that the CITU was forced to approach the AP High Court and file a petition. The CITU obtained a stay order from the high court against the closure of the mill.

The management of Chittivalasa Jute Mill in the past suddenly decided to run only two shifts instead of three shifts for which all the workers protested. Against this change, the workers protested and in retaliation to it, the management declared lockout on April 20, 2009. The government of AP issued a government order (GO) number 1265 declaring the lockout as illegal. The management filed a writ petition against the GO on the lockout in the High Court. Subsequently the High Court endorsed the government version and directed the management to pay wage arrears to the workers.

The workers are entitled to their legitimate dues for the period of illegal lockout as per the Payment of Wages Act 1936. Each worker is entitled to receive over Rs 7 lakh plus interest thereon. The total amount of payment due to the workers as per the case number 5503 of 2011 was Rs 103.53 crores, including interest as per the court orders. Now it amounts to Rs 223 crores.  Furthermore an amount equal to four times of this is payable for ensuing period.

The Chittivalasa Jute Mill was established in 1924 in an area of 70 acres of land in Visakhapatnam by the side of Gosthani River in Andhra Pradesh during the British rule. In all these years about 6,000 workers were working in Chittivalasa Jute Mill. Jute industry is environmental friendly and it can be established with less capital and generates huge employment opportunities in the country. The workers of this mill even fought against the atrocities of the British rulers. Two workers died during firing by the British. K K Bajorai is the owner of this jute mill since last 70 years. He was the president for jute owners association for long time. He has two jute mills in West Bengal, which were sold long back.

The chief minister of AP, Jaganmohan Reddy, during his padayatra before the elections, had assured the workers that the mill will be reopened but unfortunately after winning the elections, he retracted from his position. The labour minister and minister for tourism and sports and four trade unions entered into an agreement with the management for closure of the Chittivalasa Jute Mill by paying a paltry amount of Rs 12,800 to workers and betraying the 6,000 workers of the Chittivalasa Jute Mill.

The CITU union has hailed the decision of the AP High Court staying the closure of Chittivalasa Jute Mill. The CITU has asked the management to settle all the pending amounts as per the Payment of Wages Act immediately.