End of nine-year-long struggle by Comtrust staff

President’s nod for the Bill proposing takeover of the iconic factory

February 23, 2018 01:45 am | Updated 07:23 am IST

Kozhikode, Kerala, 22/02/2018: Employees and comtrust action committee  members celebrating the new verdict for the comtrust in Kozhikode on Thursday. Photo: S_Ramesh Kurup

Kozhikode, Kerala, 22/02/2018: Employees and comtrust action committee members celebrating the new verdict for the comtrust in Kozhikode on Thursday. Photo: S_Ramesh Kurup

For the 100-odd employees of Comtrust Weaving Factory, the President’s nod for the Bill that proposes to take over the iconic factory and the land it sits on, is the culmination of a nine-year-long struggle. They celebrated the occasion with sweets and a demonstration at the shuttered factory overlooking the Mananchira tank on Thursday.

E.C. Satheesan, general convener of the joint action committee of trade unions, told The Hindu that setting up of a modern weaving unit and an industrial museum showcasing the rich heritage of the factory were some of the proposals in the Bill. This would mean that the parcels of land on the premises that had been sold to private parties would now be under the control of the government. The President’s nod would also give a push to the proposal by the Archaeological Survey of India to declare the building as a heritage structure, he said.

The Kerala Assembly had passed the Bill on July 25, 2012, three years after the 175-year-old factory was closed down. A joint action committee of trade unions had been formed with representatives of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, and the All-India Trade Union Congress to take forward the agitation seeking its reopening.

There were 287 employees on the rolls when the lockout was announced. Some of them, however, accepted a compensation package from the management and withdrew from the agitation. A total of 107 employees decided to continue, two of whom died in the course of the struggle. The agitation did not get much of a support from the major political parties, but the citizenry and the media were firmly behind the handful of employees. They got a big morale booster when the District Industrial Disputes Tribunal ordered the management to reopen the factory last year.

Mr. Satheesan said that all the employees would now be eligible for the benefits given to the employees of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, with retrospective effect from 2009. The employees were surviving on the ₹5,000 monthly allowance being paid by the government, which often was not disbursed on time.

The government is now expected to issue a Gazette notification empowering the KSIDC to take over 1.55 hectares of land. As much as 1.63 acres of land was sold to a private company and 45 cents to a cooperative society in violation of an order by the District Collector. However, it remains to be seen how the government can preserve the heritage structure, parts of which are in a dilapidated condition. A portion of the building and the surrounding wall had collapsed during the last monsoon season.

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