The 110-year-old Anglo French Textile (AFT) mills is facing the worst crisis with the government considering closure of the mill. A file in this regard is pending with the Chief Minister for a decision, reliable sources said.
Except briefly for a few days in the end of January this year, the mill has not been operational since cyclone Thane. The workers have not been paid their salary for the last six months, says V S Abisegam, president of Joint Co-ordination of Trade Unions of Textile Mills in Puducherry.
The mill at present has a strength of 1,779, which includes 1,508 workers. The workers Provident Fund (PF) has also gone unremitted resulting in the PF dues along with the interest climbing up to `20.47 crore. Even the `94 lakh collected from ESI contribution from workers went unremitted. The gratuity to those who have retired has also not been paid for want of funds.The workers have refused to work unless the management pays up the pending salary, said Abisegam.
The options before the government are to run the mill by providing funds, lay off labour or close down the mill. Providing funds for running the mills is a difficult proposition right now as the government is reeling under financial crunch. Even lay off labour would mean payment of 50 per cent wages which is not possible and the third option is closure of the mill. A decision is awaiting on this regard, said highly placed sources.
A month ago the mill management has decided to reduce the strength by implementing the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and had signed an agreement with the workers. There are 1,059 staff and workers above the age of 50 year who can opt for the VRS. Pondicherry Textile Corporation(PTC) has decided to avail of a loan of `25 crore from the banks to pay the VRS amount. However, even that has not materialised so far. The mill management has also pla-
nned to sell off some of its properties as well as old machineries to raise revenue. But it didn’t work out, said Bhalan, chairman of AFT mills.
The government has already paid idle wages of `16 crore to 336 workers for th-
ree years from 2010 to 2012. Since January, idle wages are given to 1,535 workers and 280 staff at the rate of `3.6 crore per month.
However, the wages are yet to be paid. Now with fund constraints hampering the implementation of even welfare schemes, the government is in a tight position to pump in more funds to the mill.
Bhalan said the mal-administration of the mill since 2006 had led to the mill running in loss and finally leading to closure.
History of the Mill
The 110-year-old Anglo French Textile mill is one of the oldest in the country. Established during the French time, it was previously known as the Rodier Mill and used to have only weaving and spinning departments that made use of grey coloured fabric.
Later on, the infrastructure of the mill improved and was equipped with latest amenities such as process house and automatic looms. The mill is engaged in exporting different forms of fabrics including grey, dyed, bleached and printed. The mill was the first to introduce eight hours work schedule for workers on July 30, 1936.
The mill which was taken over by Puducherry government in 1985 after it was closed for three years due to financial problems had functioned profitably till 1992 and from 1993-94 it started running in loss. By 2005-2006, the loss had risen to 100 per cent.
Finally cyclone Thane struck the mill in December 2010.The loss incurred to the mill in the Thane cyclone was estimated at `18.45 crore and the mill is yet to get any compensation from the government.
Since the take over, the government had pumped in `493.20 crore to the mill which includes `361 .35 crore as share capital and `151.85 crore as grant-in aid. Till date the accumulated liabilities have risen to more than `100 crore.