Workers of SS Power I Plant in Chattogram said long-simmering discontent over hygienic and accommodation conditions, lack of pay hikes and payment of arrears led to Saturday's protests which left five people killed and dozens of workers with bullet injuries.
Local representatives and police, however, claimed that some locals played a role in instigating workers to take part in the clash, a claim also backed by some workers at the plant located in Banshkhali upazila.
This correspondent visited the plant after the clash on Saturday and saw the shed where workers stay was unhealthy and crammed and the toilets used by workers so unhygienic that it would be hard to expect anyone to use them. The drain adjacent to their accommodation was seen overflowing with human waste and emitting a rancid smell.
The tap at the labour shed was also found devoid of water on Saturday evening.
Rafique Uddin, a worker from Kurigram district, told The Daily Star that they were forced to live in cramped rooms, use overflowing unhygienic toilets while facing lack of clean water.
Apart from resolving these problems, they demanded a rise in per-hour wages and that arrears be paid, said Arif Billah, another worker at the plant.
The problems could easily be solved through discussion and dialogue but our demands were met with bullets, he added.
Md Rafique, one of the workers at the power plant, told The Daily Star that more or less every worker faces problems with toilets, accommodation and water supply under 27 contractors at the plant. But workers under Zan Zejan, a Chinese company, faces problems beyond these issues.
Shahedul Karim Raju, a worker at the plant, told The Daily Star over phone that the problem started with workers under Zan Zejan and later spread to others.
"Workers of Zen Zejan forced us to stop work on Friday. As we also have some problems we wanted an end to our crisis. That's why we went to meet the authorities of the Chinese company on Saturday morning."
Raju also said locals might have played a role in instigating workers.
Mohammed Ansar, a member of Gondamara union parishad where the plant is located, told The Daily Star that Md Baizid, manager of Mahi Enterprise which works under Zan Zejan, used to rough up workers and deprived them of salaries, which led to the unrest.
Baizid could not be reached for comment.
Mohammed Liakot Ali, chairman of Gondamara union parishad, told The Daily Star there there were some locals, who despite doing well, worked at the power plant as labourers.
"Police must look into such recruitment to see why they work and what their function inside the plant is," he said.
He claimed that the discontent has been in the making for the last three months. Some 30 locals fuelled the discontent. If the authorities investigate the matter rising above party lines, the key culprit will be easy to net, he said.
Two cases were filed against a total of 3,562 people with Banshkhali Police Station in connection with Saturday's clash.
Police filed one of the cases accusing 2,500 unidentified persons on charge of attacking law enforcers while the power plant authorities have filed the other case accusing 22 named and 1,040 unnamed persons for setting vehicles on fire during the incident, Shafiul Kabir, officer-in-charge (OC) of Banshkhali Police Station, told The Daily Star.
Sub-inspector of Banshkhali Police Station Rashed and Chief Coordinator of the plant Faruk Ahmed filed the cases respectively, the OC said.
No one was arrested in connection with the cases till the filing of the report.
When asked about the necessity of indiscriminate firing towards workers, Chattogram District's Superintendent of Police (SP) SM Rashidul Haque told The Daily Star, "Around 2,500 to 3,000 workers gathered and tried to attack the Chinese workers of the project. They even assaulted their fellow workers and police personnel and set several project properties on fire."
"As they attacked police and considering the circumstances, police opened fire to save the Chinese workers and property, and that led to the causalities," the SP said.
"If there is any police negligence, action will be taken after investigation. We've formed a probe committee and the report will make it clear," SP SM Rashidul Haque said.
Local sources at Banshkhali's Gandamara said workers -- fearing harassment and further violence -- were seen leaving the area since yesterday evening.
ASK URGES GOVT FOR LEGAL ACTION
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a leading rights organisation, yesterday served a legal notice on the government requesting it to take appropriate legal action against those involved in killing and injuring workers of the SS Power I Plant.
In the notice, the organisation urged authorities concerned of the government to give Tk 3 crore in compensation to the family of each of the workers who were killed and Tk 2 core to the family of each worker injured in the clash within seven days by ensuring their safety and security.
ASK in the notice requested authorities to file a criminal case against the perpetrators (be they the employers, administration or law enforcement agencies or any vested quarter) involved in the incident of killing and injuring workers, bringing charges of murder and grievous hurt against them under the relevant law.
The organisation also asked officials concerned of the government to withdraw the case filed against workers in seven days, saying the officials' prompt action is highly necessary to protect workers' right to life, property, livelihood and security.
Lawyer Syeda Nasrin sent the legal notice on behalf of ASK to the officials concerned saying that a writ petition will be filed with the High Court seeking necessary orders if the officials failed to take appropriate action in line with the demand of the legal notice.
The notice was sent to senior secretary and secretary to home ministry; secretaries to the ministries of law, industries, labour and employment, commerce and power, energy and mineral resources; inspector general of police; divisional commissioner, deputy commissioner and superintendent of police in Chattogram for taking appropriate action, Shahinuzzaman Shahin, another lawyer for ASK, told The Daily Star.