Cuffs and batons on sacked HBT workers

Haldia, Jan. 15: Sixteen retrenched workers of Haldia Bulk Terminals were today arrested during a rally to protest the government's alleged role in the exit of the mechanical cargo handler, 25km away from the Bengal Leads venue.

Policemen keeping watch on all approach roads to the venue of the industrial conclave resorted to a lathi-charge when the demonstrators, under the banner of INTUC, started to march towards the Sutahata police station.

Before HBT's exit from Haldia, 275 workers were retrenched in the first phase and 348 employees were sacked in the second phase in November. Around 200 workers sacked in the first phase had been given jobs, Trinamul's Haldia strongman Subhendu Adhikari had claimed early this month.

Today, a police officer arrested two of the agitators leading the protest when about 100 people retrenched in the second phase by HBT were marching towards Helipad Ground from Bhagyabantapur. Helipad Ground is where Bengal Leads opened today.

"As chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in Haldia today, no meetings and processions will be allowed. We repeatedly told the protesters to disperse but they did not," said Subhankar Dey, the circle inspector of Mahishadal.

After the arrest of the two leaders, the protesters started marching towards the Sutahata police station.

"Shilpapatider tariye, shilpa mela keno, mukhyamantri jabab chai jabab dao (why is an investors' meet being organised after driving out industrialists, the chief minister must answer)," the agitators shouted in unison.

The police in Haldia had urged political parties to maintain decorum during the Bengal Leads programme and had threatened strict action against those trying to disrupt the meet.

The industrial town has seen some political disturbance in the days leading up to the business event.

CPM supporters had yesterday accused Trinamul workers of threatening them with dire consequences if they brought out any rally against the government's policies. A DYFI stage put up to protest the state's perceived lax attitude towards industry was also pulled down by suspected activists of the ruling party on Saturday night.

Rahim Mullick, one of the sacked workers, said: "We did not provoke the policemen. We told them to either allow us to march or to arrest us. But they resorted to an indiscriminate baton-charge."

Circle inspector Dey said: "We resorted to the baton-charge after some of the workers became aggressive and chased us."

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