WITH more and more politicians joining the scramble to flaunt their pro-worker credentials, Bajaj Auto’s decision to close production at its Akurdi plant near Pune is gradually snowballing into a major controversy.
Taking a cue from Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture minister, who seemed opposed to Bajaj’s Akurdi unit shutdown—which incidentally falls under his Baramati constituency—the Maharashtra Cabinet on Thursday indicated that it may ask the auto major to reconsider its decision. Sensing the political mood in the country, some of the ministers were all for the state government intervening in this potentially sensitive issue.
“At the Cabinet meeting here on Thursday, the government expressed concern over the issue and is looking into the matter. The Cabinet will take a final view in consultation with chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh,” said minister for industries and mines Ashok Chavan, after the meet. The minister added that the government would not allow Bajaj to enter other business activity at Akurdi plant.
According to state officials, revenue minister Narayan Rane, too, voiced his concern over the issue at the Cabinet meeting. “The government should not allow industries to leave workers in the lurch,” Mr Rane is believed to have said. “We will ensure that the interests of the labour at Akurdi plant would be protected,” Mr Chavan said. The fate of some 2,730 workers hangs in the balance after the closure of the plant.
“We will not allow Bajaj to shift this plant anywhere. Officially, Bajaj Auto management has not approached the government as yet. However, they require the government permission to shut the plant,” Mr Chavan said. The catch here is the Bajaj management has already made it clear that no worker shall be retrenched or forced to quit. The management has promised to keep them paying though there won’t be any work.
The Bajaj auto management held slump in demand and government policy responsible for rendering production unviable at Akurdi plant, an argument which didn’t find a taker in Mr Pawar. “Where is the slowdown? India’s economy is booming,” Mr Pawar shot back when asked to comment on Bajaj’s argument. Today, members of the state Cabinet echoed similar sentiments.
Many, in fact, asked the government to prevent Bajaj from starting any new activity at Akurdi plant. “The government will not allow Bajaj to enter other business activity from the said plant. Bajaj seems to have plans to enter some new businesses like real estate development or IT sector. The land at Akurdi is very valuable,” Mr Chavan stated.
Meanwhile, as things hot up over the auto company’s decision, Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto, called on Mr Pawar in New Delhi. “Rajiv was in Delhi and wanted to see Mr Pawar as he may not be available for September 8 meeting in Mumbai,” Rahul Bajaj told ET. The state government, the labour ministry and all parties concerned are meeting in Mumbai on Saturday for another round of discussion to break the deadlock.