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October 1, 1997


Workers to get share in new plan for sale of textile mills land

Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi's latest proposal, suggested last month, for the sale of textile mill land may be acceptable to the mill owners and workers unions alike and long-pending dispute, gathering dust for quite some years now, might at last be resolved.

Joshi's new proposal envisages dividing the mill land into four parts, unlike the previous plan which suggested a three-way division. The fourth part in the new scheme will be used for the workers' rehabilitation and welfare. However, details have yet to be released.

Bombay Textile Mills Owner Associationsí Chief Secretary V V Tamhane has said the division into four parts will divide the proceeds into extremely small shares. "How will the textile mills raise revenue for the modernisation of their mills if the available land is divided into four parts.

The millowners' association and the unions are still waiting for the finer details of the chief ministers proposals. Tamhane complained that the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government did not even consult the mill owners before announcing the proposal. He said the association will express its opinion at an opportune moment.

Tamhane the state government should adopt an impartial approach while giving permission for the sale of mill land. "The state government puts no restrictions on pharmaceutical companies selling their factories, and many pharmaceutical companies have done so and left Bombay," he said. "In contrast, the alliance government is imposing severe restrictions on the proposal to sell extra mill land at market rates and use the proceeds to modernise the textile mills.

Under pressure from the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, the Sena-BJP government gave permission to 11 textile mills out of the 19 that applied to sell the surplus land on their premises. However, the proposals of Ruby, Piramal, Hindustan, Bombay Dyeing, and Morarji Gokuldas, among others, are still pending with the state government. Ruby mills submitted its proposal on January 17, 1992, and Piramal on February 23, 1993. The other mills submitted their proposals after this date.

The alliance government also appointed a subcommittee to find a solution to this vexatious issue. Similarly, independent committees had been set up, including one chaired by eminent architect Charles Correa. Even though the respective committees submitted their draft reports to the Maharashtra government, the latter did not accept their recommendations fearing a workers' backlash.

In this background, the new proposal put forward by the chief minister recently seems more likely to be accepted, in spite of a few complaints.

Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Union, the leading union among textile workers, has welcomed the plan. RMMU leader Ramchandra Hulawle said any proposal to rescue the ailing textile mills and for the workers' welfare was always welcome. "Our union will surely support it," he said. "The earlier proposal of dividing the surplus mill land into three parts was also acceptable to our union."

However, Hulawle pointed out that the proposal failed to enunciate what exactly is "workers welfare".

Datta Iswalkar of the Textile Workers' Action Committee, was guarded. "At last the government has accepted workers right over the mill land by reserving one fourth of it for their welfare and rehabilitation," he said, and pointed out that the previous Sharad Pawar government, while allowing eight textile mills to sell their surplus land, had ignored the workers.

Cautioning against early celebrations, Iswalker asked, "Will the workers or their inheritors get employment in the new industrial centres to be developed after the sale of mill land? Will they get adequate housing facilities in the new housing colony to be constructed? These questions remain unanswered. Unless the chief minister clarifies the finer details of the new proposal, it would not be proper to comment."

The union leader said he would attend any meeting called for the purpose. Iswalkar said the various workers' union are collectively preparing a draft proposal for the sale of surplus mill land.

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Compiled and translated from the Marathi media by Prasanna Zorey

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