After four years of trial, the Gurgaon Additional District and Sessions Court Friday convicted 31 people and acquitted 117 for violence at Maruti Suzuki India Limited's factory at Manesar in Haryana in 2012.
On 18 July 2012, a fire broke out at this plant of India's largest automobile manufacturer following a violent scuffle between the workers and managers leading to death of a senior HR executive, Awanish Kumar Dev, and injuries to with several others.
The sentence will be pronounced on 17 March. Vrinda Grover, who appeared for the accused workers, said of the 31 workers convicted, 13 have been held guilty of murder and 18 others for rioting and criminal conspiracy. She added that the judgment “strongly vindicates” their stand while demolishing that of the prosecution.
The counsel for the Maruti management, on the other hand, has sought harsh punishment for all the convicted.
Speaking to Catch, Grover said the convicted workers will challenge their verdict in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. And since the sessions court has set aside the contention of the manager's death being preplanned, it will work in their favour, she added.
At an earlier hearing on 19 February, Grover had argued that 112 of the accused workers had not even been identified by prosecution witnesses.
“The order is proof that a large number of workers were falsely implicated. While 117 have been let off without any charges, 18 have been convicted of minor offences and only 13 convicted of murder. We have a strong case and believe that these 18 too would also be let off by the Chandigarh High Court since our plea is that this was just an accident,” Grover said.
She claimed that the prosecution has “no evidence about who lit the fire and how it was lit and whether flammable material was used”. “We are confident that the High Court will acquit the convicted workers since there's no evidence to prove their guilt. The evidence provided will not stand the scrutiny of the high court,” Grover said.
Lambasting the Maruti Suzuki management, the lawyer said they targeted prominent members of the workers' union. The 13 men convicted on Friday are indeed part of the union. She said, “They have been accused of these charges not because they killed a man but because they were championing the cause of the workers.”
Meanwhile, Khushi Ram, general secretary of the Mazdoor Sahyog Kendra, Gurgaon, said the union will continue to fight until all workers are acquitted. “We have been fighting since 2011 and will continue to do so till the courts give a favourable judgment. We will change the verdict by mobilising the workers from the area. We workers will teach them the power of labour unity and even the courts will have to accept our demands,” he said.
Khushi is one of 546 permanent employees who were terminated after violence broke out at the plant. He went on to add that around 25,000 workers from various factories in the area organised a lunch boycott on Thursday in solidarity with the jailed Maruti Suzuki Union workers and will do so again on 16 March.
The case was filed by Deepak Anand, former general manager of the plant, who accused 600 workers of murder, attempt to murder, rioting and unlawful assembly. The police later arrested 147 workers and booked them for various offences, including the murder of Awanish Kumar Dev.
In the run-up to the violence, the workers' union and the Maruti Suzuki management had been at loggerheads over the latter's decision to initiate disciplinary action against one worker. The union wanted the worker to be reinstated and the salary of contract workers brought on a par with that of permanent employees. When the management didn't agree to the demands, violent protests ensued.
The management has maintained that the workers attacked senior executive “during a discussion”; the workers have alleged that its representatives were attacked first. Maruti had issued a statement that the workers were armed with “iron rods and door beams of cars” and targeted senior management at the plant. The workers maintained that the executives had the factory gates locked and hired bouncers brought in who “brutally attacked” the workers.