Hindustan Motors- Down the Memory Lanes

Since yesterday evening when we saw the news of lockout at Hindustan Motors (HM), Uttarpara plant on NDTV channel, we have been talking about the bad and good days of our life there. We lived in the factory premises known as Hind Motor for almost 35 years. When I passed on the message today in morning to Anand my youngest son in USA, he expressed his worry if he could show the place, where he was born and brought up, to Shannon, his wife. In evening, Mrs. SP Dey who was one of our neighbours there, called for inviting us to the marriage of her son Soumitra that is going to be in May. But besides talking about the bride, it was more about the situation at Hindustan Motors and its officers whom we knew. Under threat from the arrogant union activists, they have shifted to safe locations in Kolkata.

I joined HM in 1961 just after finishing IIT. The same year in October, the company had a bad labour strike and then also the company had to declare lock out. None was allowed to go in even when the lockout was lifted on insistence of the then Dr. BC Roy’s government. I went to my native place for few days and then returned. But we were signing our attendance at the registered office in Calcutta. The company started sending the employees to the plant by special trains arranged and under police protection. Fortunately, we were not asked to go in, as we were newly recruited executive trainees. The union then was of CPM and the government was of Congress. The union activists were violent and obstructed employees and managers, even assaulted some of them. After a number of attempts too, the company couldn’t get the factory in operation with all the assistance from the Congress government. Citu had developed its strength. After some days, the company yielded on some demands.

Over 37 years, I had to bear with all the unreasonable demands and demonstrations of Citu, as I was named one of the toughest managers in the history of HM even in Citu era. I was inflexible and never compromised for unreasonable demands. When we joined, the production was hardly 8-10 cars a day. In 1980s, the maximum was about 120 cars a day. But union activism had killed the discipline among the working population that is an essential factor for a quality production. The management had lost hope for resurrecting the company’s health.

In 80s again, HM had to face the strikes by Citu, and lockouts by the management a number of times. On one such an occasion that I vividly remember, the whole company premises was under floodwater, the residents were having tough time because of the shortage of essential items such as milk and vegetables, the Citu had struck work, and as usual the company declared lock out.

Today the situation is totally different. HM has lost its prestigious position of being the premier company in car production. It hardly produces 40 cars a day for taxi market and some government departments who are not allowed to buy any other make. Employees’ strength has reduced to around 4,000 from about 15,000 or more. It is just managing to run the plant, though it talks of getting into auto components. Many of the other manufacturing units such as heavy engineering and steel foundry divisions have been sold out to other companies. A bad management can’t revive a sick unit. It talks of losses, but surprisingly even in the best of years it didn’t declare any profit nor dividend. I don’t know how the promoters survive under these conditions.

The leftist union CITU is with the company today and is fighting on behalf of the company with the opposing union activists to allow the employees in, but failing to make any breakthrough. But the protesting union activists have created panic among the employees living in the residential areas just as Citu used to do in good old days of ours. Could Buddha make the union activists unlearn what they picked from their counterparts affiliated with CPM?

Few weeks back I saw an insertion in ‘Business India’.”Money is Money… And AN ASSET IS ASSET. So how does it matter whether your car plant makes money by building cars or developing real estate? It carried a photograph of CK Birla, who, as reported, has signed a deal with Bangalore based Shriram properties to redevelop 314 acres at Uttarpara Plant. The deal will fetch Rs 290 crore, and will be ploughed back into the plant on “rejuvenating and expanding the product line”.

It is difficult for me to digest the intention of the deal. The HM plant had a spread in 748 acres or more. Some of the land must have come free.

Today, Hindustan Motors declared a lockout at its Uttarpara plant following the month long labour unrest that saw repeated violence as Citu (of ruling CPM) tried to break the strike by sneaking in workers and clashed with the other plant union- Sangrami Shramik Karamchari Union (SSKU).

I am sure the stalemate will be over, but HM is almost dead. There is no point in repenting for that, as I spent the best of my life there and contributed my best. I only wish it remains running and worth visiting till Anand fulfills his wishes.
Tripartite meet on HM impasse today
Citu drive to unlock HM

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