After 18-year wait, payday for appliance company workers

Zadona's 800 employees finally start getting their dues after verdict in favour of union in prolonged court battle, but justice comes too late for over 150 who are no more; 35 workers remain untraceable

The lives of about 800 employees of Zadona Electronics the firm that manufactured the once-famous Bush transistors and television have hung in the balance for 18 long years, as their company's owner, financier and union were embroiled in a fierce court battle. Earlier this year, the court finally gave its verdict in favour of the union.

The run-down premises of Zadona Electronics in Wagale Estate, Thane, which was closed down in 1993

But before one can say 'all's well that ends well' and exult for the underdogs, here's a sobering thought: over 150 of the employees who would have reaped the benefits of the legal victory have died, succumbed to grinding penury or acute depression stemming from their protracted unemployment. Thirty-five of the employees cannot be traced.

And tragically, a 64-year-old employee of the company died a day after receiving the bounty that he had pinned his hopes on for almost a decade.

Zadona was once recognised as a top-of-the-line manufacturer of television sets, transistors and tape recorders. It was flagged off in the year 1963 at Wagle Estate in Thane, with 2,000 workers on its rolls.

Promising beginnings

According to J R Rocha, the company's chairman and managing director, the market for transistors was booming during the Indo-Pak war in 1971, when almost everybody relied on the contraptions for hourly updates on the proceedings of the war.

Family members of many of the company's employees accompanied them to the Bank of India in Fort, to help them collect their pending salaries

The company produced over 10 lakh transistors, its 2,000 loyal employees working round the clock to meet the high demand. However, in 1993, the company began to suffer heavy losses due to a sudden slump in demand, high salaries and steep octroi rates.

In June that year, recurring losses forced the factory to shut down. To add injury to the lamentable fiscal circumstances, the company was mired neck-deep in debt, having taken a loan of about Rs 2 crore
from various overseas banks in 1963.

The company was forced to pull down its shutters in May 1993, leaving its 800 employees teetering on the edge of an abyss of uncertainty.

Battle begins
Left in the lurch, the employees organised themselves into a majdoor union, the Adarsh Kamgar Sabha, and filed a case against Rocha in the high court. The court appointed a receiver for the case in April 1994, and thus began a long-drawn-out process of litigation.

In April 2011, the court pronounced its verdict in favour of the workers, following which Rocha sold off the 11 acres of the company's land for a sum of Rs 87,10,00,000. On December 17, the court receiver began distributing the long-pending salaries among the employees. Of the 800 that had formed the union, only 450 employees have received their dues.

"We are finding it difficult to trace the employees after 18 years. Around 150 of them died while they were still waiting for their pending dues. Thirty-five are not traceable," said Harish K Amin, general secretary, Adarsh Kamgar Sabha, the company's union.

Fatal joy
And dropping a pall of sorrow over the court's positive verdict, Bhagwan Gandhi, a 64-year-old employee who was living in Pune and came to Mumbai to collect his cheque last week, was found dead at his sister's Bandra residence, where he had put up.

"He was overjoyed with the verdict. He kept reminiscing about his service in the company all night. A day later, he was found dead," said Amin. "After 18 years, my workers are getting their salary; this is a great moment for me. I wish them all a Happy New Year. I am thankful to Harish Amin and the court receiver too," said Rocha.

Workers speak
"At this age, I have received Rs 3,04,000. I cannot explain how it feels. I am very thankful to Amin and Rocha. I feel overjoyed; I will keep the amount in a safe deposit. I have enough for the rest of my life," said 70-year-old Shantaram Surve, a resident of Bhandup.

"I had lost all hope. I will be thankful to Amin and Rocha till the day I die. I will give some of the money to my children and wife. I will fix the remaining balance in a bank. I can die in peace," said 56-year-old Dayal Idasani, a resident of Kalyan.

"I had lost hope. It was possible only because of Rocha and the honourable court. I am speechless with happiness. My workers are getting their cheques at last," said Amin, who had joined the company when he was 18 years old.

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