Response of the labour force to the changing urban formation in Asansol Industrial area – who survives and who cannot.

Abstract: Capital has gradually liberated itself from the welfare cloak and by the last decade of previous century it has once again returned to it’s original business of profit maximization in the form of so called liberalization. Looking back at this trajectory is necessary to understand that this liberalized economy is not only a liberation from the welfare cloak but also a conscious effort to pre-empt social and political opposition. The process, at least in our country, is still evolving. To explore and analyze multifarious aspects of this phenomenal development are both challenging and exciting for any social researcher. Presently, though, I do not intend to arrive at any comprehensive analysis but will only look at the changes  for last 15 years taking place at Asansol region, the pre-eminent industrial area of West Bengal.

Bio: Sudipta Paul is a Post Graduate in Electrical Engineering. She is a certificate holder of RTP (Research Training Program) of the year 2004-05 in Centre for Studies in Social Science and Culture, Calcutta. She was the principal investigator of the project entitled ‘Collection of Oral History of Coal Workers with special emphasis on Impact of     Outsourcing’ at the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute.

Email: sdipta_paul @

Independent Project Fellow : Sudipta Paul
Abstract of Presentation
Capital has gradually liberated itself from the welfare cloak and by the last decade of previous century it has once again returned to it’s original business of profit maximization in the form of so called liberalization. Looking back at this trajectory is necessary to understand that this liberalized economy is not only a liberation from the welfare cloak but also a conscious effort to pre-empt social and political opposition. The process, at least in our country, is still evolving. To explore and analyze multifarious aspects of this phenomenal development are both challenging and exciting for any social researcher. Presently, though, I do not intend to arrive at any comprehensive analysis but will only look at the changes  for last 15 years taking place at Asansol region, the pre-eminent industrial area of West Bengal.

Posting 1

Title: Response of the labour force to the changing urban formation in Asansol industrial area – who survives and who cannot. Area: Asansol industrial area, a subdivision of Burdwan district of West

Professionally I am an electrical engineer and an

employee of West Bengal State Electricity Board. Last

year (2004-2005) I have done a full time “Research

Training Programme” (RTP) from Centre for Studies in

Social Science, Calcutta (CSSSC). I have just

completed a project entitled ‘Collection of Oral

History of Coal Workers with Special Emphasis on

Impact of Outsourcing’ for V.V. Giri National Labour

Institute. Also I am actively involved with a local,

by-monthly little magazine “UDYOG” about social,

political and cultural issues related to Asansol area

of West Bengal for last four years. We have an

aspiration to give it an orientation towards honest

and alternative media. Also we are trying to build an

organization, “Adhikar” which will document the

conditions of the unorganised labour force in the

Asansol area.

About our work

We came to know from the history of the Asansol-Ranigange

coal field area that Prince Dwarakanath Tagore,

grandfather of Rabindranath  was the first Indian

businessman of coal. Bengal Coal was

the company Dwarakanath founded.Till the establishment

of rail lines, coal was transported through river. In 1854,

first rail line in India was established up to Ranigange.

After the railway linkage up to Asansol, the city began to

flourish on both sides of G.T. Road. Due to the

availability of coal and the abundance of  water from

the river Damodar and near by sources of necessary

minerals,  steel industry was established at Kulty at

the end of nineteenth century. After that gradually

different industries flourished in that area. As the

Asansol town was growing, small urban formations were

taking shape near the clusters of collieries within

the Asansol subdivision. However, all these urban

formations till now exist in very close tie with the

rural areas. The present scenario is one of decay of

the old industry and the closure of the private


The situation has changed in the new globalized world.

and with it unused labour force is

increasing rapidly.  There is no new major alternative

source of income which can generate sustainable job

opportunity. A small section of workers are getting

employment at new industries under contractors with

the salary near about one third of the salary of the

organised workers. These contract workers are unorganised

till now. But there is an organized effort by the

party in power to maintain its full dominance on this

unorganized labour force or informal ways of survival.

It is the party that decides who will get the work and

who will not. This way in the apparently unorganized

form there is an underlying regulation or organized

effort that serves two purposes. One is the

maintenance of control by the dominant parliamentary

party. Second one is to check the unrest among the

people evicted from their own livelihood and

mainstream employment.

Objective of the Project:

The main objective of the project is to sketch the

response of the labour force (‘Subaltern people’) to

the changes in Asansol industrial area in the form of


The labour force can be broadly categorized into – (a)

traditional/organised labour force,

(b) people newly adopted to industry and (c) who are

excluded from industry.

1.  Is the labour force able to adopt them to the changed situation? If anybody can, what is the process of adoption/inclusion and if anybody cannot what is the process of exclusion?
2. What are the major factors that determine their response to the changed situation?
3. What are the new mechanisms to control the new workers of these new industries – within the trade union and/or outside?

We will also try to give some impression about the feelings of one category of workers about the other. Does the parallel existence of old organised and new unorganised workers lead to any conflict or not? Based on the response we can try to address the question – for whom these development projects or the new industries.

Now I give about the first phase of work.

It is necessary to identify the changes take place at

the Asansol subdivision within 15 years after new

economic policy. But the process of urbanization has

not been stopped. The epicenter of urbanization has

been shifted from industrialization to the Urban development like –entertainment park, real estate business, different urban facility etc. The main changes are listed bellow.

1.      Changes in the Coal sectors.

2.      Changes in the manufacturing sectors

3.      Changes in the urban formation

a.    Shifting of the workers from the residence of the

closed industry

b.    Establishment of new

c.    Hawker eviction

d.    Establishment of new township with closed enclaves

and shopping malls

4.    Changes in labour

Already we have collected the documents of the changes

in the coal sectors and very few of the manufacturing

sectors(steel). Now we start to collect the

information about the  newly developed
industries like

sponge iron, cement factory and other small scale


So our first work is to collect the information about

the new changes at this area. Then we will compile a preliminary

report of the changes. Paralally we will make

visit for selection of interviewee and take

representative photographs like Hawker eviction,

hoarding of the new town-ships etc. Recently we came

in contact with the South Bengal Association of

Photographers. We ask them for the photographs of the past

events. They have agreed to give us. We think to make an

photography exhibition about “Urban Development” at the end of March at the Seminar of our Magazine on “The question of

Development and the Future of  this Coal field / industrial city”.

Posting 2: 3/4/2006

Sudipta Paul<>wrote   Please cancel privious second posting.
The work of first phase of our project are to identify  the different changes and compilation of those changes. In our second posting we write about the changes in coal sectors.   Changes within the last 15 years in coal sector:   In the beginning of the 90s one important event was the introduction of the new economic policy. Broadly, new economic policy initiated the gradual withdrawal of state from the control of basic industry and infrastructure. The basic industry and service sectors were open up for free entry of private and foreign capital. By decreasing the import duty, Indian market is opened for the foreign goods. Even the import duty of coal was gradually decreased to facilitate the global market. So the effect of new economic policy in the consequence of globalization also falls on the coal sectors. We now see what sort of impact of policy change has taken place upon the coal sector and coal workers.   It was 26th  January, 2005. Workers of a private agency Eastern Mineral and Treading Agency are crowded in front of their Camp. The  camp is the accommodation of the workers near their working area Tara Open Cast Mines of M/s Bengal EMTA Coal Mines Ltd. Mines are closed on account of republic day. All workers got a holiday simultaneously after a long time.    So they are in the mood of celebration with meat and alcohol. One alcohol shop is in front of the camp. The owner gave a seat to us. Then some curious workers came to ask us about our purpose of visit. Most of them were drunken. After understanding partially about our purpose nobody wanted to talk about their own conditions. One said that ‘All are terrorized to say anything to the outsider. If authority knows about that anyone has opened his mouth, the very next day he will be dismissed from job.’ Another person uttered in anger ‘We are in bonded labour condition’.   This is the picture of the workers of a captive coal mine when coal mines are opend for private capital after 30 years of nationalization and achievement of some legal rights through a long history of coal workers’ movement.     Upto mid 90’s the nationalized coal, Eastern Coal Field Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India Limeted is the only major coal production organisation in Asansol – Ranigange coal field. After amended of  Coal Mines Nationalization Act, 1973 w. e. f. 9.6.1993 to allow private sector participation in coal mining for generation of power by private sectorprivate partners are engaged for extraction of coal from Asansol – Ranigange coalfield from mid 90’s, but only from OCP. The decision to extract coal from ten coal reserved patches (eight out of these ten are in west Bengal) by outsourcing in 2001 gave a new dimension towards privatisation of coal. Also in proposed Coal Mines (Nationalization) Amendment Bill, 2000 one important clause is to open up the coal sector for private investment and for open sell.   Impact of the policy Change is the introduction of a number of private operators in the coal production.

1.  In 1996, WBSEB and WBPDCL had jointly opted for extraction of coal from their captive coal mine-Tara(East) and Tara(WEST) in joint venture with 74% share of a private agency – Eastern Minerals & Treading Agency (EMTA). The production and dispatch of coal to the power stations are done by EMTA vide an agreement between the company and EMTA. This is the first colliery from where extraction and dispatch of coal is totally done by a private agency.

2.  In the next step, the first major private colliery of India, Sarsatali Coal Mines Project, sponsored by Integrated Coal Mines Ltd (ICML), a subsidiary of CESC, has started open cast project on the virgin land of 2615 acres. ICML has also engaged the private contractor, G.S. Atwal for coal production.

3.   Closer of the loss making Under Ground Mines and Outsourcing of 17 Coal Reserved Patches : With a large number of underground mines, loss making ECL has became sick company under SICA 1985. With the withdrawal of cross subsidy between all the subsidiaries of CIL as well as subsidy by the Central Government in the era of new economic policy, ECL has been declared as a sick company under SICA 1985 in 1997. By converting the government loan to equity ECL came out from BIFR. Again ECL was referred to BIFR in 2001.State Bank of India (SBI) as an operating agency of ECL has given eleven proposals in their revival packages for ECL. One of the proposals is outsourcing of some coal patches, suitable for OCP mines for a short period. Other proposals are closer of 26 UG mines and some financial support from central and state government and CIL Among all the other proposals outsourcing of the small coal reserved patches and the closer of the Underground mines are getting consent of the ECL authority. Already the seven numbers mines have been closed. Then outsourcing of the ECL has been started in 2002. Loss making ECL has target to gain some profit by selling coal which is produced at a lower cost than ECL by private contractors giving lower wage than the workers of ECL by passing the national coal wage agreement.

In the above cases of private initiatives the informal nature of production is the predominant characteristic.   The total production procedure is run by contractual methods. There is a main contractor for coal production and transport. This contractor has a number of sub-contractors for different jobs.

Now the workers of ECL are organized in several trade unions. Particularly, in terms of wages, job security and safety the work condition has improved. Rights of the workers were legalized by enactment of National Coal Wage Agreements (NCWA).

Gradually there was an increase in wages of the organised workers but the employment opportunity and the number of workers decreased.

Nationalized coal could not absorb the unused labour force after a certain point. So the reserved pool of labour force is engaging in the illegal mines where the primitive way of production is continuing without any scientific safety measures. Accident is the regular feature and basically non-reportable and uncountable. After introduction of the big private owners now the unused labour force is ready to work  practically without any existing labour rights like employment lettter, identity card, minimum wages or job security in the captive mines under the private contractors. Also they are completely unorganized.  There is an unofficially ban to organize in unions. There is no document about the status and the number of workers of the private contractors in government records and even the respective employer gave partial and incomplete documents about the workers. One is the permanent coal workers under NCWA of ECL who are organized within the different recognized Tread Unions. Other type of workers of private agency or contractors and illegal mines is mostly informal and unorganized outside the NCWA.

Changes in the Organised Sector-ECL   •Given importance on the foreign technology without searching for suitable technology for the specific geo-mining condition of Asansol-Ranigange Coal Belt •Gradual shift to labour replacing mechanized big Open Cast Mines Projects from labour intensive under ground mines.      Impacts upon Organised Labour force are

1.      workers of ECL decreased from 1.85 lakhs in 1975-76 to 1.10 lakhs in 2003-04. After 1985 there is no new recruitment in ECL.  2.      Have not create employment opportunity with increasing production from labour intencive UG mines. 3.      Labour replacing technology of the Big Open Cast Mines also create surplus   Unorganised or informal workers    Number of unorganized workers   Formal data sets and official documents are available about the workers of the organized sector, Eastern Coalfield Limited. But there are no documents or official records about the unorganised worker of the outsourced coal patches of ECL and new the private initiatives.  When we went to the Regional Labour Commissioners office then they informed us that they have no authentic documentation about the workers of the private contractors. There is huge variations in the number of workers in every inspection. It is true that the requirement of workers varies from time to time in the Open Cast Coal Mines. For ex. production is low in the rainy season. But we asked to for the record – the way they have it. Yet they denied me the data. They also said that the wage data cannot be given as there was no fixation of wage for the coal workers. We fail to understand why the wage data are not available which is given to the miners. Even the union leaders of the power sector, West Bengal State Electricity Board do not know about the status of the worker of captive mines run by the joint venture with 24% share of  WBSEB and WBPDCL   Source : Environmental Management Plane of M/S Bengal EMTA Limited, collected data from the office of G.S. Atwal and survey report.   In the registered private collieries there are different types of workers.   Parmanent: The total production procedure is run by contractual method. So they only have a small formal structure of management. The officers, supervisory staffs, clerks are in this formal structure.

Workers directly related with the production: Next type workers are under contractors and subcontractors directly related with production.   This contractor has a number of sub-contractors for different jobs. Most of them are outsiders or migrant workers from Bihar, UP and other districts of West-Bengal. Generally one senior worker informs the next worker of his own village and one of his relatives. This is the dominat way of recruitment of the outside workers. In most of the cases initially there is no written recognition as a workers of the mine. Even the employer does not make any verbal commitment about the wages, different facilities, leave etc. simply there is no job contract. So these workers have no formal status based upon the written contract. From interview of the workers we get the impression that in the era of large reserve pool of labour force the employer is powerful to take action against workers. As there are no rules the owner increases wages or gives promotion to his own selected workers according to his own will. According to the workers – the loyal workers are benefited. Only 68 land looser of Sarsatali Open Cast Coal Mines project got job under the main contractor G.S. Atwal of ICML. The job of these land-looser is permanent throughout the age of Sarsatali OCP according to an agreement with the ICML and local administration. The main initiators to organize the workers of Sarsatali OCP under the trade unions are these 68 land-losers. This is the only union in this belt outside Nationalized coal. But this is not affiliated with any existing Trade Union of coal. Except these 68 workers, some outsiders are the members of this union. But no one under subcontractors is connected with the union. Around 80-85 local people of the OCP affected area have got the job in these two captive mines through the local political party. From the interviewee of a respondent “party gave job to those family who have more wealth and money. Party did not prefer the have-nots”. The workers are in full control of the local party and their affiliated Trade Union. But the central Tread Union have no initiative to make factory wise Union in the private initiatives. One worker of the Bengal EMTA, connected with ruling party of WB said “now pary has started to think to form a union.” When we want to know the reason behind these he said that  “I do not want say why they are doing this after 10 years of the opening of OCP.”   ·                               Piece rated workers: The mechanized OCPs are not able to generate sufficient employment for the affected local people for the OCP.  So under the control of the local party, around 1500 to 2000 people got the job to separate stone from coal and to make proper size of coal piece before loading in the wagon.   They are working in-groups of seven to ten of a village. They do not have job for the whole year. These groups work in piece rate under the supervision of a munshi or sardar.  All groups of the Bengal EMTA siding are divided in two divisions. One division is allowed to work 20 days in a month and other group is allowed to work for another ten days in a month and vice versa. This process has been taken in the course of unofficial agreement with the local political party to stop the unrest among local jobless people. So now political party plays the role of sardar.     ·                               Self employed people:Another type of  workers, who are not recognized as worker, are engaged to earn money from rejected coal, which is not used in power plant, extracted from OCP. They use the resource of formal sectors. Through an intermediate chain this coal finally reaches the formal sector like Sponge Iron, cement company and for domestic uses.  Women, men, children, in fact all members of a family go to collect coal in one or two pieces from the overburden (piled up mud and stone on the surface above the coal seams as a small hill) of the Open Cast Mines of ECL and captive mines  through out the day.  This people are popularly known as Kawla Kurani. After a whole day of collection they sell one bag of coal to a carrier popularly known as cycle-wala. This man then carries nearly bag of 3-4 quintal coal by cycle to the nearest coal depot or the Asansol town for sell. Thus Kawla Kurani sells collected coal to cycle-wala, then cycle-wala to the owner of Bullock Cart from whom the owner of coal depot and lastly the owner of depot sells it in the market or the owner of the truck. In this way this type of intermediary process is continuing.  At the time of collection of coal, accidents occur quite frequently due to the landslide at the surface of the hill of piled over-burden. But these people till make jokes at the time of telling about the accidents. In the absence of no other means of earning this subsistence economy persists.     This is the gross structure of the different production organisations. Even in ECL, a portion of the work is done by the contract labour. But the major part has a formal structure and records with a fraction of unorganised or informal labours under contract. However, in unorganised sector the dominant mode of production and status of workers are unorganised and informal with only a small fraction of formal structure.   The organised workers earn three to four times more than the unorganised workers in terms of wages. If we consider the rate of exploitation in terms of earning for per tone coal production then exploitation is much higher than gross earning. The status of unionized workers is better than non-unionized workers. It is better not only in material terms but also in terms of their mental conditions, for example- the workers organized under unions are more free to give answer at the time of survey or interview.   In our second posting we write about the closer of public sector like Indian Iron and Steel Company, Kulty, Cycle company ect and two new Industrial estate of Asansol. One is Kanyapur Industrial Estate and other is Mangalpur Industrial Estate. Both are started from 1990-91. The nature of small and medium industry are Sponge Iron, cement, food, plastic, rolling mill, packaging, alluminium, oil, sa\mall manufacturing etc.


The wheel of industrialization of West Bengal is running very first with frequent closure of many industries. It does not allow any resistance through out the path of industrialization. The movement against the closure of industries, the scarcity of land, militant movement of the land losers, demand of job of land losers , demand of minimum wages and other facilities etc – whatever happens it is running smoothly at any cost. It’s true that with industrialization a number of people will get jobs. One new industrialist of Asansol, Paban Ghugutia said in an interview with a correspondent of “Ananda Bazar Ptrika” : “Suppose an industry is built up. Unemployed youths will get the jobs. They will earn money. Economic status of the workers will be changed. They will go to market to buy the necessary commodities. Then there will be some sort of economic transactions. So with increase of industry, the life of human beings will also develop.” In the course of the economic development, a number of new industrial estates are developing  in last fifteen to sixteen years in Asansol area. Mangalpur and Kannyapur are two of them in the Asansol Subdivision. There is also a plan to develop industrial estates  adjacent to 55 KM area of G. T. Road from Durgapur to Barakar. Let’s see how much industrialization has taken place and how much employment has been generated at the two industrial estates in the field of closed industrial areas of Asansol.

Before 80’s, renowned Hindusthan Pilkinton Glass Factory was closed. After that Bengal Paper Mill was closed. From 90’s the closing of the industries took an accelaration and within last fifteen years a number of industries have been closed very rapidly.
We give a list of closed industries with manpower.

Hindusthan Pilkinton Glass factory -1600
Bengal Paper Mill -1500
Bharat Aluminium Co. Ltd. -3000
Burn & Co. 1&2 -1400
Cycle Corporation -3000
Indian Iron and Steel Company (Kulty)-3000

Nearly  15000 workers have lost job due to closure of industry. This is only reported and available data of closed industry. There are a number of unreported and unregistered industries which have been closed. The residential area of those industries are becoming abandoned almost. Most of the workers left their companies’ quarters to their homeland or went to other places like Kolkata and also Asansol proper in search of their lively hood. A vast area of Kulty Works of IISCO has become a ghost area. The fifth largest Golf Ground of Kulty is remaining in unused condition. However, within the short distance of 250-300 meters a new township is developing surrounding Kulty College which was mostly a forest area. The residential area of the workers of the glass factory is in the same condition. The officers quarters became abundant. But the families of the workers, who have no other alternative are remaining in the damaged quarters of the company. Near about 200 families are spending their life in a very miserable condition. Most of the next generation of glass factory workers are day labours or unemployed. Third generation of these families are mostly illiterate due to poverty. One jute mill owner bought  the 150 bigha of land of glass factory including the area of quarters at a paltry sum of 4.05 crores. He wants to evict the workers families. But the people unitedly made resistance against the displacement without the banner of any political party one and half years back. This glass factory colony is also a subsidence prone area due to the unscientific coal mining according to the official record of coal company.

Next we take a look at the development of new industries in place of huge number of closed industry. One new characteristic is to form a cluster with a group of different industries within the same place. Mangalpur and Kannyapur industrial estates are two such clusters of industries. Total area of these two estates is approximately 300 acres. Now the question is from where land is made available for these types of cluster of industries which form an industrial estate?

Asansol town has been developed in a very unplanned way with coal industry, railways, and other industries. For planned development and in the name of industrialization, West Bengal Government accrued land according to the Land Accusation Act 1884 from land owners. Most of the lands were one crop agriculture land. Compensation has been paid in terms of land ceiling rate. Land less people were the ‘bargadars’ who cultivated land by taking lease from land owners. A number of people were agricultural labour.  The bargadars and agricultural labours did not get any compensation due to the acqisition of land. These people were assured of job in the future industry. In this land, housing board made residential area and remaining area was handed over to the ADDA in 1981. Creating infrastructures like water, electricity, road for industry,  ADDA leased out land to the owners of industries with a contract of 60 years. Adjacent Kannyapur industrial estate township is developing gradually.

Most of the new industries are small and medium. One completely new type of industry is Sponge Iron. Within the last 8-9 years, the demand of steel is increasing in national and international market. But the supply of scrap has been decreased gradually. So the demand of sponge iron as a raw material of steel industry has increased. Not only sponge iron, we see that in place of integrated steel and cement plants there are small separate modules of plant for production of the material of different stages. These small modules are called mini plants. In a number of cases the separate modules of steel industry are established by one single owner. Except steel there are a number of food industries like biscuit, flour mills etc. There also some other industries like aluminum, plastic, repairing job etc. At adjacent subdivision , Durgapur, there are a number of sponge iron industries and rolling mills. The main reason to develop iron and cement industry in this region is the availability of one of the main raw materials – coal and slag for cement from IISCO. We mentioned in the first posting that there exists a circle of “illegal” coal mines (which is not run by Government body and license holders) . Most of the coal  supplied to mini steel industries are from these illegal mines and from the illegal theft of coal from ECL of Coal India. Slag is a waste material of steel industry, IISCO. Total number of new industries are 19 and 11 at Mangalpur and Kannyapur respectively. Within these 7 are sponge iron,   2  rolling mill, 7  cement companies and 9 food industries and  one Jute industry.

Who are the workers of these new industries?

The Chief minister of West Bengal is very much egger to claim that he is the driver of the huge industrialization. This will create lots of jobs for the people of west Bengal.   But I want to highlight the problems of the claim of huge industrialization. Does this type of industrialization really make any remarkable changes in employment?

There are lots of confusion about the exact figure of the labour force of the new industrial estates. Roughly 5000 employment has been created at new industrial estates. Within the 5000 new employments, 3000 are in jute industry of Mangalpur. From our survey we see that nearly 50 % workers of new industries are from outside states and other districts of West Bengal. In steel industry nearly 60% , in food 99% and in cement and other nearly 30-40 % workers are from outside of Asansol.

In the language of the local workers of new industry
“Why do the owners prefer to recruit local people. There is a possibility to make disturbance by making demand for better wage and facilities. They will do the unionism. The owners do not prefer it.”
“Is it possible to do the jobs of iron company. Who will agree to consume the huge dust inside the shop. In the rolling mills workers are bound to do the job in high temperature. Heat, dust, – all come from company. So they need new workers”.

We see that some of the local and outside workers work under the company directly. A section of workers are contract labour. Migrant workers are mostly contractor’s workers. They reside in the quarters of the respective company within the campus of the company. The surrounded campus have security at every possible entrance. All sorts of entry and exits are monitored by the security. In the next section we see that invariably no contractor wants to pay salary in time. So there are one sorts of bindings to stay at the company. Otherwise you return without money.
There is a new feature like the recruitment procedure of  private initiatives of coal that local people has been recruited through the local political power. They are also compelled to be a member of the respective union affiliated to the respective political power. Only for one case there is a union of TMC. And for the rest 29 cases they are under the grip of CITU. Interestingly there is no unit wise Tread Union of the particular unit. Basically political power, mostly CPI(M), controls the activity of the workers inside the factory and outside the factory. Apparently there is an organized effort to control the apparently unorganized labour force or informal ways of survival. In the language of the workers-
“They (CPI(M)) have started the new factory. So the CITU union does not want to make much pressure to meet the demand of the workers.”
“If anybody join other union except the union of CPI(M) then it faces complete resistance by police. Also the CITU does not do anything.”
“There is the ‘raj’ of CPI(M). So they control all union activities.”

Status of the workers in the documents of the Government:

There are lots of confusion about the actual figure of the workers. At the time of factory registration according to the factories Act, 1948 it is necessary to declare at the office of Directorate of factories the maximum number of workers, including contractor labours, likely to be employed in the factory on any day during the next 12 months. They must  give further declaration of the updated manpower of every year. After that all workers should be registered for the Employees State Insurance Scheme at ESI corporation office. According to that scheme, every registered worker gets the benefit of ESI scheme. One major benefit is the 50 % payment for the sick leave and compensation for disablement due to accident in the factory. We have collected the data of the manpower from both office. Here we see that there is a gap between the number of workers from Directorate of Factories office and ESI. The number of ESI card holders is less than the total workers of the factory for most of the cases. For 10 cases none of the declared workers have been registered in the ESI scheme. Even we found more workers than government documents at the time of survey and conversations with the workers. We also found that there are contractor’s labours for most of the company. But contractor’s labours have no registration in the company. “Only the contractor have notes about the workers.” Even they do not make any payment document for the contract labour. Here we like to mention that there are only two inspectors to inspect the registered factories and also unauthorized running factories. Grossly, the Factories Act, 1948, the Payment of Wages Act, Maternity Act are under the purview of Directorate of Factories. Payment of Wages Act regulates the payment of wages to certain classes of persons employed in any factory or in industrial or other establishments. The Act envisages maintenance of register of wages, displaying notice and data of payment, timely payment of wages at the end of the wage period and prevention of illegal and unauthorized deduction of wages etc. So it is preferable to the management to declare less number of workers than actual.


It is necessary to mention actual payment to every individual worker for last one year at the time of submission of the contribution of the workers and also owners for ESI scheme. From there we got the wage range of each factory. There are gross violations of minimum wages. There are no minimum wage  for sponge iron, cement etc. For sponge iron minimum wage inspector of labour commissioner’s office compare the wage of worker with the declared wage of Iron Foundry. Here we mention the minimum and maximum gap of wages per month between declared minimum wages for 2005 and actual wages for some industry. Generally the actual wages are less than the declared minimum wages by the West Bengal government.

Steel industry – Rs. 117 to 1027
Flour mill – Rs. 1211 to 1656
Bakery – Rs. 525 to 1513
We came to know from the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office that in most of the cases, owners and the union make a understanding with the workers for low wages in the name of present crisis of industry and market. But workers are compelled to agree to work at any wage in the age of huge unemployment.

Most of the workers are under the condition no work and no pay. Here we also see the same characteristic of the private initiative of coal. For giving job opportunities to the maximum number of persons, one group of workers do the job for the 15 days of a month and other group of workers do the job for another 15 days. Some of the contractors make this type of arrangement taking consent of both workers and factory owners. Here we can not make any simple straight line between workers and contractors  or workers and factory owners. Let’s listen the story of the cooperation between workers, contractors and factory owners in the form of oral history.

A worker of a mini cement factory:
“I am doing work for 10 years in this factory from the very beginning. In 1996 I got the job. We twelve had started work. Six are at the one side of the rolling machine and rest are at the other side. There are three women. We were recruited directly under the company. But there are 15 to 20 contractors workers. Number of contractors workers are varying seasonally. At the lean period (from July to January) we have made adjustment by sitting with the owners and contractors and have settled job rotationally because all get the opportunity to do the job. We always cooperate with the owner. The CITU union of CPI(M) has made several calls to join with them. I went to the office of CITU and said that when we will fail to settle our demand by discussion then you come. Otherwise there is no requirement of you. If you agree then we will join CITU in the above terms. We do not allow any unionism in every small events with your flag (jhanda). But owner said he will close the factory because of market crisis. There are many new cement companies. So he can not compete. We need to make some compromise for our own existence.”

There is also dissatisfaction, anger against contractors and owners. But in the era of huge number of unused labour they do not have the courage (better to say they are compelled not) to make any voice against exploitation in the name of industrialization.

Now we listen the story of one roaming contractor’s worker of the Rolling Mill.

“I am a resident of Nagra District of Rajasthan. First I worked at Rama Machinary of Maddrass. They have not given regular salary. Than I went to the factory of Sodepur which manufacture span pipe. There I worked for five months. After that contractor did not give any work. Then I went to work at PMT steel of Bombay and Sun steel of Ulubaria. After completion of  work under contractors I was ditched by contractors for wages at Raypur. Now I am in the Baba Ispat Company of Mangalpur. After melting of sponge iron at furnace, melted iron is poured into the casting for preparing 60 to 80 ton carton (iron rod). At the cutting edge of the iron I remove carton one by one continuously. This type of work requires massive manual labour. For five hours a day I get Rs. 2100 a month. I have no identity card, no ESI card( for getting facility Employment insurance Scheme) and also no PF. According to my ability, I do the work, then I will earn. But I got better wages at Sodepur.”

Environment of work:

This section can be started with the words of the previous worker of Rajasthan. He said within six month he was an eyewitness of three accidents. One worker injured by melting iron on his leg. He was a local worker. When the medical cost of recovery was increasing upto a certain limit then the owner sacked him from the job without any compensation. The finger of two workers injured at the time of running. Upper portion of finger was cut off.  Total number of reported accident at ESI for accident benefit is 143 at the factories of Asansol.

According to the Factory Act, owners are bound to provide the personal safety equipments like helmet, shoes, gloves, mask etc. for protection from accident and pollution. Most of  the companies are not keen to give these equipments. According to the workers, proper safety measures have not been followed. For every case we find that safety rules and regulation of Factories act have been violated. Not only the new factories are accident prone, these new mini plants create pollution inside the factory and outside the factory. The factory environment is full of black dust and fumes. There is no single case of periodical medical check up of the workers of dangerous production process. According to the ESI, number of patients of occupational diseases is  increasing.

The outside of the factories are polluted by the extract ?gases and fumes which are full of the components of sulpher. The cultivated lands become non-fertile due to the accumulation of black dust on the surface. Villagers have shown the black paddy with black rice. Water bodies become polluted. Villagers are affected by the pollution.

This is the situation where new industrialization only creates nearly 5000 employments where only reported 15000 workers have lost their jobs due to the closure of main industries. There are also unreported huge number of loss of ways of earning from the ancillary and the urban market which developed with the big industries. Not only is it comparable in quantity but also in quality of the status of workers. The new industrial policy of West Bengal government gives some facility to the industrialist for investment like state capital investment subsidy, interest subsidy, waiver of electricity duty, remission of stamp duty etc. Parallely the new or modified labour laws are going to be passed by which the existing pro workers’ restrictions have to be removed to facilitate the investment. Also we see that the threat of huge unused labour prepare the ground for change in labour law with 12 working hours and no restriction of retrenchment. But the workers are not ready to participate in the market with very low wages. Also there is no guaranty of job. From the interview with the workers we got the impression that owners of the new industries are used to retrench any worker at any time as they wish. Till today no organised resistance has built up against such exploitation. So the new employment at Mangalpur and Kannyapur industrial estates are not qualitatively comparable with the employment at integrated plants. There is a good example within the Asansol subdivision that average per day earning of the workers of the big integrated plants of privately run Damodar cement is more than 400. In contrast the average per day earnings of the workers of new industries is less than Rs. 80.
The loss of agricultural land or the loss due to industrial pollution has not been addressed here. If the loss of man-days can be calculated for the above loss then we will come nearer to the picture of actual development due to industrialization.


Sudipta Paul <> wrote:   Date:
> Sat, 27 May 2006 21:57:42 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Sudipta Paul <>
> Subject: Labour and Capital : Old Story Retold
> To:
>   Labour and Capital : Old Story Retold
>   Capital thrives on profit maximization. Whenever
> it gets threatened by the prospect of a falling rate
> of profit – and inevitably it has to face such
> misfortune at some point or other of it’s journey –
> capital typically responds by resorting to
> increasing the rate of exploitation. That is to say
> it tries every trick to reduce the fraction of the
> surplus value (produce by the worker) it has to
> return to the worker in the form of wages. All these
> are well known ever since Marx expounded his famous
> theory of capitalist development. But twentieth
> century has taught capital an important lesson.
> That, the blessed mission of expropriation of
> surplus value and accumulation of capital often gets
> jolted by satanic forces, because every attempt to
> increase the rate of exploitation brings back the
> specter of social unrest. The later half of the last
> century was there fore also capital’s period of
> learning and experimenting how to exorcise the ghost
> of popular dissent. It was in this
>  process that post-war period witnessed welfare
> sate, new deal and so on. But beyond political
> imperative, welfarism is clearly incompatible with
> profit maximization and encouraging the sense of
> social security is considered sacrilegious by
> capital because so long there is at least a
> perceived social security, people will not rush to
> the market to sell their labour power. So, with the
> shadow of socialism receding to furthest corners,
> capital has gradually liberated itself from the
> welfare cloak and by the last decade of previous
> century it has once again returned to it’s original
> business of profit maximization in the form of so
> called liberalization.
>   Looking back at this trajectory is necessary to
> understand that this liberalized economy is not only
> a liberation from the welfare cloak but also a
> conscious effort to pre-empt social and political
> opposition. The process, at least in our country, is
> still evolving. To explore and analyze multifarious
> aspects of this phenomenal development are both
> challenging and exciting for any social researcher.
> Presently, though, I do not intend to arrive at any
> comprehensive analysis but will only look at the
> changes taking place at Asansol region, the
> pre-eminent industrial area of West Bengal.
>   Coal production is the core industrial activity in
> Asansol. Till ‘90s, ECL was the main producer of
> coal. But in 1993 coal Mine Nationalization Act 1973
> was amended to allow private sector participation in
> coal production and after that, Bengal EMTA Ltd, a
> joint venture company with 74% share of private
> agency and ICML, the first major private initiative
> in coal production has started producing coal. Apart
> from that, ECL has outsourced ten coal reserve
> patches for contractual extraction by private
> contractors. And beyond the ambit of ECL and
> licensed private agencies there are the “illegal
> mines” engaged in rat-hole mining, which can be more
> accurately termed as unlicensed small private or
> cooperative companies.
>   The ostensible reason for inviting private
> agencies is, ECL is no longer able to make
> investments required to increase the volume of
> production. But the queer fact is, neither it seems
> that private agencies are coming with large and
> responsible investments. They are not interested in
> underground mining which requires larger investment
> and has longer gestational period. They are picking
> up areas for open cast mining where Dumper and
> Doser, shovels suffices, no systematic long-term
> planning is required and the investor can walk off
> with easy profit quickly enough. Incidentally this
> trend is not peculiar to coal production. In fact
> almost whole of what is being hailed as resurgence
> in manufacturing segment in West Bengal is
> essentially small and medium scale investment for
> quick profits in areas like sponge iron units (of 50
> or 100 ton per day capacity), iron rolling mills,
> ferro alloy units, small cement units and so on. And
> the secret of their easy assured profit lies in
>  their common mantra of brazen labour exploitation
> and spending nothing whatsoever for environmental
> safeguard. These workers are sweating it out for
> astonishingly meagre wages. If comparison helps, it
> can be stated that a worker of a public sector
> integrated steel plant earns almost five times than
> that of a worker of sponge iron unit or iron rolling
> mill unit. More often than not, they toil for twelve
> hours a day without adequate safety provision. In a
> sense, they are not even formally employed by the
> owners. They have no pay structure, identity card or
> for that matter, no piece of paper supporting their
> status of regularly employed worker. Actually what
> happens, they are simply gathered together by labour
> contractors and are being put to work on no-work-no
> pay basis.
>   Along with this stark exploitation and scornful
> violation of existing labour laws, planned efforts
> to pre-empt labour unrest are also clearly
> discernible. There is no other reason why half of
> the workers engage in private coal production and
> newly built manufacturing units should have to be
> brought from neighboring states. Especially when
> Asansol is reportedly having a ‘reserve army’ of
> nearly one lakh workers rendered unemployed by the
> spate of industrial closer in last fifteen years.
> Nearly 90% of this migrated labour are skilled
> labour though it is scarcely believable that in the
> oldest coal field of the country there is any dearth
> of skilled miners.
>   Local workers are very categorical in their
> opinion in this regard. They say that those who are
> coming from far- off places find here themselves
> completely at the mercy of contractor and their
> acolytes and are in no position to bargain for fair
> wages. Skilled workers generally wield some sort of
> bargaining power, workers feel, and to emasculate
> them almost entire section of skilled workers are
> being brought from outside. And their story of
> migration seems to be an endless one. One group of
> workers don’t stay long at one place because
> contractors go on rotating them between different
> work sites, so that they always remain alien in the
> land where they are toiling.
>   Of course, remaining half of the worker are local
> men and women whose legitimate dissatisfaction and
> grievance about abysmally poor wages and working
> conditions may turn out to a fountainhead for
> popular dissent. The way of this inconvenience has
> been taken care of is truly remarkable. Take one
> example. In one unit of joint venture coal
> production, nearly 600 people from nearby village
> are engaged as piece rated workers at the site for
> coal loading in railway wagon. For several months
> they were agitating for rational wage, drinking
> water facility, rest shelter, one weekly rest day
> etc. In response, the management sought the
> intervention of local political power which the
> latter readily did. And the political party quickly
> took control of the situation, successfully
> dissuaded the workers – or at least a section of
> them – from agitating and brokered an agreement by
> which hereafter two groups of workers are to work
> rotationally, one group for 20 days a month and the
> other
>  group for 10 days. This bizarre arrangement was
> hailed as a victory because now more people are to
> get jobs! Similarly when there was unrest among
> local people demanding jobs in Mangalpur industrial
> estate and in the private coal mine, it was the
> local political power which took charge, convened
> village level meetings and choose people for the
> jobs.
>   This, unquestionably, is a very significant
> development. At least in West Bengal, political
> power is not merely political but social and
> administrative as well. This omnipotent, omnipresent
> power is playing a crucial role in present day
> industrialism. The political establishment is the de
> facto employment agency and labour contractor and by
> this virtue it commands unquestionable social
> authority in a society starved of employment
> opportunities. And this authority has placed itself
> at the service of capital for ironing out whatever
> inconvenience capital has to encounter in its
> mission for profit maximization. Thus we get the
> strange ambience of an industrial area where
> coloured flags symbolizing workers movement flutters
> at every rook and corner as if presiding over there
> eerie silence where workers have lost almost all of
> the right including to have their union.
>    Write Up prepared by Sudipta Paul and Sovon Panda
Title: Response of the labour force to the changing urban formation in Asansol industrial area – who survives and who cannot.
Area: Asansol industrial area, a subdivision of Burdwan district of West Bengal.