Pune: Sharad Pawar, India’s agriculture minister who hails from Maharashtra has criticized two-wheeler maker Bajaj Auto Ltd (BAL) for its decision to shut down its Akurdi factory in the area, saying companies that avail of government concessions for industries should desist from moving production out of the area when these benefits cease.
This comes a few days after Bajaj stopped making bikes at the Akurdi plant, also the location of its headquarters, saying government levies and an unproductive workforce made it an inefficient production facility. Bajaj’s Akurdi plant and the large industrial belt of Pimpri Chinchwad comes under Pawar’s parliamentary constituency, Baramati.
Pawar met with representatives of the workers’ union and company officials at Pune and asked the firm to reconsider its decision to shut down production at the mother plant .
“It is evident from the figures produced by the company officials that the company’ sales have gone up consistently over the last few years and while the production figures at Akurdi are lower than those at its other plants, it is not reasonable for it to expect that the municipal corporation can rework its octroi (a local tax levied on the value of goods) collection to meet the demand made by the company,” Pawar said.
Pawar said the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, under which the Akurdi plant falls, has progressively lowered its octroi rates to the lowest in the state. The municipal corporation, whose annual octroi collection was Rs675 crore last year, has gradually lowered its octroi rates from 3% to 1.65%.
Pawar, however, said he would wait for BAL chairman Rahul Bajaj or managing director Rajiv Bajaj, neither of whom was present at the meeting to speak with him, so that he could take the discussion forward.
He added that the officials who met him were not “empowered” to take decisions and that he would meet the “management” before 8 September at a meeting he proposed to hold to “resolve this crisis”.
The minister also contested the management’s stand that it would continue paying workers salaries permanently by pointing out that the management clearly said, in its notice, that it reserved the right to change the terms of the current working conditions. “It is important that the company’s operations be commercially viable at Akurdi and I am willing to discuss (this) with all the parties concerned, but it is important that the interests of the workers who toiled towards making the company what it is today, are protected,” Pawar added.
The meeting was attended by state labour minister Ganesh Naik, Pune district guardian minister Ajit Pawar (Sharad Pawar’d nephew), additional labour commissioner A. Lakaswar and the representatives of the workers’ union. Bajaj Auto was represented by Kevin D’sa, vice-president, finance, C.P. Tripathi, vice-president, corporate, and P.S. Gadkari, deputy general manager, corporate.
Taking note of apprehension in the minds of the workers that the company was now gearing up to exploit the commercial value of the sprawling Bajaj campus after shutting down operations, Pawar said that a part of the land had been allotted to the company by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) exclusively for industrial activity.
“I will instruct the state government to ensure that the land is not used for any other purpose,” he added. Pawar said company officials have assured him that the Akurdi facilities will be exclusively used to expand research and development work of Bajaj and not be put to any other use.
Pawar simultaneously urged the workers’ union to put their differences aside and work with the management to try and resolve the crisis. With uncertainty over their fate now threatening to continue for sometime, there has been restlessness amongst the 2,700 workers who have been told to stay at home after the plant’s closure.