25 months... and no relief for 148 jailed Maruti workers

Written by: IANS
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Gurgaon, Aug 24: Over 25 months after violence at automobile major Maruti's Manesar plant in Haryana left a senior executive dead and dozens injured, 148 workers of the company remain in jail on combined charges of murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.

Booked by police and sacked by the company, the slow pace of the legal case in various courts has led to a situation where none of the 148 jailed workers have been even allowed bail.

The violence in the Maruti Manesar plant near Gurgaon July 18, 2012, left the company's HR head (General Manager) Ashwin Kumar Dev dead and over 40 people injured as agitated workers resorted to violence inside the plant.

Violence started after a company supervisor allegedly abused and slapped a worker. Services of nearly 2,500 workers, including 546 permanent employees, were terminated after the violence. Maruti declared a lockout for over a month, causing a loss running into several crores of rupees.

Families of the 148 workers who have been jailed after the incident say that no one has been allowed bail in over two years even as the trial has moved at a slow pace.

"Those in jail have lost family members during this period but they have not been allowed bail even on these occasions," a member of one of the affected families said.

Police officials here say the case is under trial in the court of Gurgaon Additional District and Sessions judge S.K. Khanduja.

"Forty-four testimonies of company officials, four contractors of the company, doctors and officials from the labour department have been completed. Maruti officials failed to identify 25 jailed workers. Testimony of 13 investigating police officers is awaited," one police official told IANS.

Bail applications of 11 of the 25 workers who could not be identified by the company officials have been moved in the court. The bail applications of two workers are pending before the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh.

Workers allege that some of them were framed in the incident. Seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or by a high court judge, families say the pace of the trial should be faster.

"Two workers, Sharwan Kumar and Satish Kumar, who were terminated later, were admitted to a hospital by the company itself before the violence. Later, they were named in the case," union leader Ram Niwas told IANS.

In recent months, the families of jailed workers have knocked at every possible door - from the prime minister's office to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana Industries Minister Randeep Surjewala and others.

They have even been protesting in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar to highlight their plight.

"Punish those guilty, but why are innocent workers facing all this? We formed the worker union despite opposition from the Maruti management. The workers were framed to finish the union," said Ram Niwas, a member of the 11-member committee formed to fight for the jailed workers.

"All accused are facing 15 similar charges including murder, attempt to murder and hatching criminal conspiracy," Archana Chauhan, one of the defence counsel, told IANS.

Police and Maruti officials said the case was before the court.

"All accused are under common trial," Gurgaon Joint Commissioner of Police Vivek Sharma told IANS.

"The matter is between state and workers. We have nothing to say," Puneet Dhawan, spokesperson of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), told IANS.

"The management will not consider taking back the sacked workers," he said.

Industry body Assocham said the per day loss at the locked-out Maruti plant was Rs.90 crore as thousands of workers from the plant and ancillary units were dependent on it.


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