The Gurgaon District court has convicted 31 workers of participating in a 2012 factory riot in a Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar, Haryana.
On Friday, Additional District and Sessions Judge RP Goyal pronounced 13 men guilty of murdering Maruti Suzuki Manager for Human Resources Awanish Dev, and another 18 were found guilty of rioting, destruction of property, causing grievous injury and criminal trespass, making for a total of 31 convictions, while 117 co-accused were acquitted of all charges.
The quantum of punishment is expected on March 17.
On 18 July 2012, a simmering dispute between Maruti Suzuki management and union representatives turned into a violent altercation that concluded with the death of the Manesar plant’s HR manager Dev, and the arrest of 148 workers.
The incident at Maruti and the case that followed became a benchmark case for both - corporate India, who called on the courts to deliver exemplary punishment, and trade unionists who accused the Maruti management of using the criminal justice system to resolve a long-pending labour dispute.
“The government of India is promoting ‘Make in India’,” Maruti Suzuki’s lawyer, Vikas Pahwa, argued in court, “With this kind of volatile environment and industrial unrest, no country would come forward and invest in India.”
In a press statement after the verdict, Maruti counsel Vikas Pahwa said the conviction of 31 accused vindicated the company’s position that workers had rioted in large numbers.
Lawyers for the defence contested Pahwa’s claim.
“The acquittal of 117 workers shows that the substratum of the case has collapsed,” said Rebecca John, another lawyer for the accused, who said that those convicted would appeal.
Vrinda Grover, another defence counsel, said the police had exaggerated weak evidence to “over-awe the judiciary”. The 13 workers convicted of murder, she noted, were all prominent leaders of the Maruti trade union.
In one illustrative instance, Grover said, 89 workers were arrested on the testimonies of four labour contractors, who said they saw workers riot in alphabetical order: witness Virendra Yadav said he saw 25 workers, whose names ran from the letters “A” to “G”, riot in one part of the plant, while contractor Yaad Ram, saw 25 workers, named between “G” and “P”, riot elsewhere. Ashok Rana saw another 26 – named between “P” and “S”, while the last witness, Rakesh saw 13 rioting workers, whose names fall between the letters “S” and “Y”.
These names, Grover said, were mentioned on the basis of an alphabetical list provided in advance by the Maruti Suzuki management.
“These workers were jailed for years without bail on the basis of this shoddy investigation,” Grover said, “The policemen who framed these acquitted workers should be prosecuted.”
Jintendra Kumar, who was a temporary worker at Maruti at the time, was one such victim.
“I worked for a year at Maruti, and was jailed for three,” said Kumar after his acquittal, “I wasn’t even on duty that day, but the police picked me up anyway.”