Clock stops ticking at HMT

Not many workers turned up on Thursday, the last workingday at the HMT factory in Bengaluru. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Not many workers turned up on Thursday, the last workingday at the HMT factory in Bengaluru. Photo: Sudhakara Jain  

Five dogs howl by the gates, while a few employees gather on a culvert near the parking lot. Up above the HMT Watch Factory a clock ticks on. Employees point to it saying that once the electricity is cut off, even this symbol of a once-proud factory will stop.

Very few employees have come to the factory on Thursday, which was to be the final day for the ‘country’s timekeeper’ at Jalahalli. Barely 14 employees have turned up, and based on their ‘negotiations’ with the management, they have come out to discuss it with their union leaders, who let out the choicest of swear words against the management.

Though Thursday was the last date to collect relieving letters, these workers plead with the management to extend it to Saturday. Withdrawing the lump sum — which is more than Rs. 35 lakh for many employees — after the start of the new financial year will see them getting tax benefits, the employees tell the management. By then, their relieving letters will be given, severing the last links with the watch factory.

There is much mistrust and confusion, much like the processes that have led the iconic factory to the path of insolvency over the past two decades. At the factory itself, there was no farewell function, no speeches and no expression of memories from the many workers who have spent more than three decades there.

“In some ways, it is all our fault that this situation had to come,” says Chandrashekhariah S., who has worked in the factory for 32 years and is the general secretary of the workers’ union. “When the losses started, the management didn’t care, and the government kept giving loans without any intention of reviving the factory. This process should have been done some time ago,” he says.

While the financial decline has led to the closure, M.S. Siddaraju — who has worked for more than 34 years — believes the factory will live on in its watches. “My grandchildren may not even see a sign of the factory in Jalahalli. But the watches will still be in the market, and the demand for these pieces will go up,” he says.

We take a look at the company that has reigned monopoly in watch-making for many decades... Photos: The Hindu Archives. > Click here

The last batch

At the start of 2016, there were 405 workers in Tumakuru and just 49 in three units in Bengaluru. On April 2, 14 workers in Bengaluru and 264 workers in Tumakuru are to be relieved signalling the end of HMT Watches

What happens to the land?

High-rise apartments in Jalahalli tower over the nearly 88 acres of HMT Watch Factory land. Workers sigh that in a matter of a decade, there will be no sign of the watch factory as the whole land is up for sale.

Officials of the Common Services Division of HMT, which looks after the land, says the complex has been handed over to the Union government, while an expression of interest from government departments has been called for the land. The machines in the factory will be auctioned.

While the processes continue, for many, the arduous search for accommodation begins with a deadline of two months. In a block opposite the factory, out of 150 small apartments, just 15 families live there. There is dereliction all around: windowpanes are broken, paint is peeling off, and mould is visible on the roof. “There has been no renovation at least since I moved in 16 years ago,” says Narayana Swamy, a former HMT showroom manager, who had shifted to the quarters when the factory’s decline saw his salary being given irregularly.

Meanwhile, in the set of HMT quarters — shared with Machine Tools Division — nearby, out of 1,500 houses, around 700 will be tenanted to government departments to raise money to pay off salaries and arrears, said officials.

In Tumakuru, the Union and State governments are planning to jointly establish an Aerospace and Defence Technology University on the land formerly owned by HMT.

Uncertainty in Tumakuru

From Tumakaru Staff Reporter

The closing of curtains on the factory has seen more than 405 workers waiting in anxiety for the money that will allow them to rebuild their lives.

Though 141 workers, who had opted for VRS of HMT (Hindustan Machine Tools) Watches Ltd. in Tumakuru were relieved from service at the start of the year, they are yet to be paid. A further 264 are expected to turn in for work for the last time on Saturday.

One of the workers, on condition of anonymity, said that without salaries for the past year, many were struggling to eke out a living. “How can I go home without any money? What shall I tell my family?” he says.

Many workers are worried about the future of their children, who are studying in high school, as they say they would find it difficult to find another job at their age.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 3:18:32 AM |

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