25-year wait for wages in MP mills continues

The Hukumchand Mill compound has turned into a garbage dumping ground, except for this make-shift platform where local artisans make idols
As many as 10,000 former workers and other staff of two textile mills, Hukumchand Mill and Binod Mill, in the Malwa region are struggling to get their back wages for more than two decades. Established in the pre-independence era, Hukumchand Mill has been reduced to rubble while Binod Mill still has some concrete remains.

According to the Madhya Pradesh labour department, the two mills shut down in 1991, rendering 5,500 workers in Hukumchand Mill, Indore and 4,500 workers in Binod Mill, Ujjain, jobless.

The legal battle for ownership between the creditors of the mills and the state government has subsided but it was a long wait for over a thousand workers who have died. The surviving workers are not sure if they will ever receive their wages.

"The state cabinet decided recently to sell the land of Binod Mills. Earlier, it decided to sell the land of Hukumchand Mill to settle the dues of workers," K C Gupta, Madhya Pradesh's labour commissioner, said. "According to our records, Rs 217 crore is to be paid to workers of Hukumchand Mill and Rs 57 crore to workers of Binod Mill," he added.

"The state cabinet recently okayed a plan to sell Binod Mill's land to be used for the Ujjain Smart City project. The special purpose vehicle created for the Ujjain Smart City project will sell the land and pay creditors and workers," Narottam Mishra, a cabinet minister, said.

The state cabinet had in August decided to sell the Hukumchand Mill land. An ownership dispute between government agencies had resulted in no buyer interest when in November the government tried to put the Hukumchand Mill land up for sale.

"There is a dispute over land ownership between the state government and the Indore Municipal Corporation," said Harman Singh Dhaliwal, a former Hukumchand Mill worker and office-bearer of an employees' association.

The state government was also contesting land ownership with the creditors of Binod Mill, a worker of Binod Mills said.

"We do not know what will happen but workers must be paid their dues. It is more than two decades," said Subhash Sirose, a former worker of Hukumchand Mill.

"Do they want us all to die so that they can avoid payments?" asked Bhagwandas Pal, who stays in a temporary structure in the Hukumchand mill compound. "I will not leave the mill campus until my dues are cleared," added the 72-year-old Pal.

He said as many as 1,700 workers had died in penury. He and Dhaliwal maintain records and both said each worker, on average, had Rs 3.50 lakh dues.

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