To call a meeting of all parties and mill workers to hammer out a solution
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Friday told the State Assembly that the government was open to discussing the issue of housing for mill workers but it was impossible to take a call on this matter in a single day.
Replying after a debate on the issue of houses for mill workers, Mr. Chavan appealed to the Opposition parties to call off the proposed bandh on August 1 and said he would call a meeting of all parties and the nine representative organisations of mill workers to come to a solution either on Monday or Tuesday. The Opposition, which was crying hoarse for free housing for mill workers, dropped its aggressive stand after Mr. Chavan's speech and agreed to come to the table for discussion.
Mr. Chavan held out no promises or assurances, instead he put the facts before the Assembly and said that he would make things plain. He said the mill strike of 1982 and the events after that were part of a sad history and the issue was sensitive. He said that while some of the suggestions in the debate were good, there was a need to understand that since 1982, there were expectations about the future of mills and all decisions taken were not always for the good. Since 2000, mill land was sold in a big way and the Development Control rules were changed. This also led to some expectations that mill hands would get houses.
The Chief Minister had met nine organisations working with mill workers to resolve the issue of housing but they were not keen on getting involved in deciding matters. The mill land available for housing was about 15 acres and it would be impossible to construct 1.5 lakh houses, which were needed on this area. In 2006, it was decided that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority would build houses on land that was available and a committee headed by the Chief Secretary held over 111 meetings but the matter was not resolved.
Of the 58 mills in Mumbai, housing proposals of 47 were accepted and a total of 15.78 hectares of land was available. Of these, 19 mills with a land of 6.83 hectares had started building houses and about 6,948 houses would be ready soon. The issue was the eligibility of the worker and whether to have a cut-off date which went back to January 1982, when the mill strike had begun, or January 2000. Mr. Chavan said he was open to discussing the eligibility criteria which could include domicile status, income and other factors but the important issue was how to distribute the houses which would be ready soon. He said giving houses free was not possible but he was willing to consider a reduction in the rates for the houses. He said that no one wanted to politicise the issue of mill workers and their housing and he was optimistic that some positive outcome could be reached through discussion.
No one expected free housing, he said, but he was willing to consider all issues that the Opposition had raised, including a fair price for houses, a cut-off date that was agreeable and even an increase in the floor space index, even though that had limitations. He said the government was also ready to look at land outside the city and whether it could facilitate the setting up of cooperative societies.
The Opposition welcomed the Chief Minister's willingness to discuss the matter. Eknath Khadse, Leader of the Opposition said the government should set a timeframe for the discussions and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Shiv Sena too seemed to have backed off from their earlier demand for free housing.
Sena gets flak
Staff Reporter writes:
A day after backing the cause of the mill workers at a massive rally in Mumbai, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray came under the scanner of the Legislative Council for his alleged links with mill owners.
The Council members, including former Sena labour leader Kiran Pawaskar, accused Mr. Thackeray and other leaders of the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance of furthering the interests of mill owners.
Congress MLC Bahi Jagtap alleged that Mr. Thackeray made a representation to the government on behalf of the owner of Srinivas Mills seeking permission to sell mill land. He said the decision to permit the sale of mill land came during the National Democratic Alliance regime at the Centre.
Mr. Jagtap's allegations drew the ire of the Opposition who sought expunging of Mr. Thackeray's name from the record of the House proceedings. Sena MLC Ramdas Kadam said he had clarified with Mr. Thackeray on the phone who denied the allegation. Council Chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh said a decision about removing Mr. Thackeray's name would be taken later in the day.
Mr. Jagtap said the Sena had taken up the mill workers' issue only with a political aim and with an eye on the Mumbai civic polls. He also pointed out that BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha had bought Apollo Mills, Finlay Mills and Srinivas Mills.
He asked why the Sena-BJP government failed to give houses to the workers when it held the reins of power in the State.