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No decision yet on reopening EICL Kochu Veli unit in Kerala

English Indian Clays Ltd employees’ unions say shutdown has pushed hundreds of staff and their families into dire straits

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The resumption of operations at the Kochu Veli unit of English Indian Clays Ltd (EICL) continues to be mired in uncertainty, a full 10 months after the company management suspended operations citing losses. The grim situation, which persists amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, has pushed hundreds of EICL employees and their families into dire straits, say EICL employees’ unions.

While the unions blame the company management of apathy, the latter attributes the delay in restarting operations to the pandemic’s second wave and the consequent sluggish market. The EICL employees unions have now sought the urgent intervention of the State government for getting the unit reopened.

The management is yet to honour the revised service and wage conditions that were agreed upon in the presence of the Labour Commissioner, the joint action council of EICL employees’ unions said in a petition to Labour Minister V. Sivankutty on Wednesday. Company officials are also pressing the employees to put in their resignation, it said.

Shift to Gujarat

Further, the council has accused the EICL management of attempting to shift the company’s operations to Bhuj, Gujarat. ”The company is yet to pay the promised interim relief of ₹25,000 in full to the employees,” said Anil Kumar, convener of the action council.

The CITU has petitioned Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Industries Minister P. Rajeeve and Mr. Sivankutty seeking their intervention to sort out the impasse, said K. Udayakumar, District Clay Workers’ Union (CITU).

EICL, which is part of the Thapar Group, mines kaolin (China clay) deposits in the district and processes the clay at two facilities — the main plant at Kochu Veli and a second one at Thonnakkal.

Blaming mounting losses and shortage of raw material, the EICL management had ”temporarily” suspended operations at the Veli and Thonnakkal units on August 10, 2020, a decision that affected the livelihood of 1,500 families.

The apparently abrupt decision had triggered a wave of protests, and the unions had launched an indefinite agitation outside the company gates. In October, operations were partially resumed at the Thonnakkal unit after the government issued a permission for mining, but the main unit at Veli remained shut.

No permanent decision

A senior EICL official involved in the Thiruvananthapuram operations of the company said no decision has been taken to permanently wind up the Kochu Veli unit.

”We were expecting to make a comeback by June this year, but the second wave upset all our calculations. It has hit our major clients, which include the paint and paper industries. Even the Thonnakkal unit, where operations were restarted, is running at 60-70% of the capacity at present. But we are hopeful of resuming operations,” the official said.

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