DHARIWAL (Punjab): The 138-year-old British India Corporation Ltd Egerton Woollen Mills in Dhariwal, that falls in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab, which once occupied a prominent place among all textile mills of British India, is now gasping for breath with many workers and ex-employees accusing the central government of neglect and apathy.
The Dhariwal mill, which once employed more than 4,500 employees, now has 300-odd workers on its roll – all of whom usually just mark their attendance and then leave. There is no clear communication as to whether the government plans to shut the mill or revive it. The chances of the former being true, is raising concern among the workers.
The Britishers established the mill in 1880 and was the only one manufacturing cloth in undivided Punjab. However, the factory was nationalised in 1980, and it stopped generating profit in 1989.
Speaking to The New Indian, Khairati Ram, who worked in the mill for over 35 years and retired in 1985 said, “This mill has been closed for several years. Few workers go in but there is no work left. They just mark their attendance and leave.”
Ram shared that the Dhariwal mill in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur is the main branch of this mill and this mill functioned on the instructions of the Kanpur. “But now no one wants it to run. Earlier, the mill provided jobs to over 4,500 to 4,800 people,” he said.
Amarpreet Kaur, who is also one of the former employees of the mill, said, “We received no benefits from the mill upon retiring – no pension, the gratuity or even compensation for the death of my husband. And now, we are forced to live in extremely poor conditions as even our living quarters are in a bad shape.”
Amarpreet Kaur’s is a family of five and they earn their livelihood as daily wagers at a tailoring shop. Recently, they have been under great pressure from the mill officials to vacate the quarters and go elsewhere.
“We will stay put till we are granted our rights. Once we get them, we will leave,” she said, adding that now no one comes to take stock of their situation.
Another former employee, Sushma shared that bother her husband and she worked in the mill. “Now that the mill has been shut for the last five years, my husband is forced to work at some shops to earn a livelihood,” she said.
There has been no talk of the revival of the mill since, nor, any announcement of closure, leaving the fates of remaining employees hanging. “Our family has not got a salary for the last five years. We want the government to provide the benefit of employees and compensate our children,” she claims.
Among the politicians, the workers share that they were hopeful of aid from the centre. “We had taken our concerns to Gurdaspur MP and Bollywood actor Sunny Deol, but he told us that the case was with the court and the matter could not be helped. Our point is why make empty promises. We just want the government to find a solution for the mill and its workers,” Sushma added. Deol, however, did help them get nine month’s salary in September last year.
Another employee of the mill, Praveen said that it has been three years since they got the salary and it is very tough to meet the daily needs of the family. “The government should work to revive the mill and help the workers get their benefits,” she said. Many former employees said that now they are under huge debt as they have received salaries for several years.
Nirmal Sharma’s husband was a mill worker who passed away in 2003. Since then, she has received any pension or gratuity from the mill. “It’s been 19 years since we received any benefits. Many people, including politicians, came to visit us and made promises, but there has been no action on the ground. We just want the government to revive the mill and release pending dues to the former employees who have been forced to live in problematic conditions,” Sharma added.
Polling for the 117 member assembly is due on February 20. The ruling Congress is looking for a second consecutive term in the state, while the AAP, SAD and BJP are hopeful to form a government in the state.