Defence team says union leaders were booked on the basis of planted evidence and that they will challenge the decision in Chandigarh high court.
Gurugram: A trial court in Gurgaon has convicted 31 people, including 13 for murder, in the Maruti Suzuki rioting and arson case of 2012 in which a HR manager of the company lost his life.
The city court, however, acquitted 117 other employees of the company.
Following extensive arguments in the case – the accused were defended by a team of lawyers comprising Vrinda Grover, Rebecca John and R.S. Cheema – the court finally convicted 31 employees of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL), including 13 for murder. In all, 148 employees of the company had been arrested in connection with the case. In his order, Additional District and Sessions Judge R K Goyal also acquitted 117 MSIL employees.
The 2012 incident saw MSIL HR manager, Awanish Kumar Dev, who hailed from Ranchi in Jharkhand and was a resident of Malviya Nagar in south Delhi, lose his life under tragic circumstances. He was survived by his wife Suparna, a deputy director in the defence ministry in New Delhi, and a 10-year-old son Abhyudit.
Over 100 had suffered injuries
In the violence at the Manesar factory, apart from Dev over 100 other employees, including some from foreign countries, and a large number of police personnel sustained injuries. The riot, as per the management, had its origin in a disciplinary issue involving an employee. Workers, however, claimed that they were targeted as they raised concerns over their rights.
Following the violence, the plant remained shut for several weeks and the unit, which manufactured lakhs of vehicles every year, lost nearly $500 million due to idle production capacity.
The prosecution case before the trial court – as observed by the Supreme Court in an order in the case of State of Haryana versus Ram Meher and others – was that “on July 18, 2012 at about 7 pm, the accused persons, being armed with door beams and shockers, went inside M1 room of the Manesar factory of Maruti Suzuki Limited, smashed the glass walls of the conference room and threw chairs and table tops towards the management officials”.
The workers then allegedly surrounded the conference hall from all sides, blocked both staircases and warned that they would kill company officials.
The court had added that “as the allegations of the prosecution further unfurl, the exhortation continued for quite a length of time. All kind of attempts were made to burn alive the officials of the management. During this pandemonium, the entire office was set on fire by the accused persons and the effort by the officials to escape became an exercise in futility as the accused persons had blocked the staircases. The police officials who arrived at the spot to control the situation were assaulted by the workers and they were obstructed from going upstairs to save the officials. Despite the obstruction, the officials were saved by the police and the fire was brought under control by the fire brigade.”
The court further observed: “In the incident where chaos was the sovereign, Mr Awanish Kumar Dev, general manager, human resources of the company was burnt alive. The said occurrence led to lodging of FIR No. 184/2012 at police station Manesar. After completion of the investigation, the police filed charge sheet against 148 workers in respect of various offences before the competent court which, in turn, committed the matter to the court of session and during trial the accused persons were charged for the offences punishable under Sections 147/ 148/ 149/ 452/ 302/ 307/ 436/ 323/ 332/ 353/ 427/ 114/ 201/ 120B/ 34/ 325/ 381 & 382 IPC.”
Argument of the defence
The argument of the defence was that most of the employees had been booked on trumped up charges. In January this year, The Wire had reported how the defence counsel, Rebecca John, had argued that there were several glaring loopholes in the prosecution case.
Appearing for the accused, she had also demonstrated how the police had not only tried to implicate most of the accused but also alarmingly planted false evidence.
The team of defence lawyers is now preparing to take the battle ahead. Talking about the case to The Wire, Grover said the team of defence lawyers will be challenging the trial court judgment in the Chandigarh high court. “There were three of us who were contesting the case in Gurugram and the same legal team would take it forward in the Chandigarh high court also.”
Grover said the defence team still believes the convicted persons have been wronged. “While 13 have been convicted for murder, the remaining 18 have been convicted for causing grievous hurt and for committing trespass with the intention to cause hurt. So in the case of those convicted for minor offences we will be arguing at the time of arguments before sentencing on March 17 that they should not be incarcerated any further. Their role has been deemed different because they were not even present in the area which the incident took place.”
In fact, Grover said the defence argument all along has been that “the very foundation of the prosecution case was that this was all one large unlawful assembly with one common object. But the very fact that some are acquitted and some are convicted only for certain things clearly shows that there was no unlawful assembly. So while some people who were present on the first floor, where the fire incident took place, were convicted, the others were not even present there.”
Acquittal show no large assembly with common intention
She said out of the 31 convicted, only 13 have been convicted for murder. It is the conviction of 13 which is the main conviction they have been able to secure. “So it is our case that actually our defence has been strongly vindicated and the foundation of the prosecution case has been demolished completely. Its assertion was that this was a large assembly with the common objective of to kill and to set on fire. But that assertion has been totally shattered with the acquittal of 117 accused and we have been able to show that these accused had been falsely implicated,” she said.
Grover said the case of the defence is that the “accused have been falsely implicated by the police in collusion with Maruti Suzuki and what is important to understand of the 13 who have been convicted of murder is that these are largely office bearers of the union and the leaders of the union. So I am saying that this is not just false implication, this is targeted framing of leaders of the workers in a criminal case in order to crush the workers’ movement and the management which has in a parrot-like manner only named these people.”
The defence has all along insisted that in this case a very unfortunate incident of the death of one official in a fire and there was no evidence of who lit the fire or what lit the fire. “The company and the management used that unfortunate incident to specifically name the labour leaders and frame them as though they were the only ones responsible. The criminal law is now a route to eliminate from the workplace strong voices in favour of workers’ rights,” claimed Grover.