|The Manesar plant|
TT, New Delhi, March 10: A trial court has convicted 13 employees of Maruti Suzuki for the murder of a senior manager five years ago but acquitted as many as 117 others in a case that spotlighted overwrought labour relations in one of the most celebrated companies in India and strained Gurgaon's reputation as an industrial paradise.
Altogether, the court in Gurgaon found 31 employees guilty of various offences linked to the rampage at Maruti's Manesar plant in July 2012.
Of them, 13 have been convicted of murdering Awanish Kumar Dev, 49, then general manager (human resources) who hailed from Ranchi. Dev's wife Suparna is a deputy director in the defence ministry in New Delhi.
Most of the 13 are office-bearers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers' Union.
The 18 others have been held guilty of arson and other crimes. Additional district and sessions judge R.K. Goel is expected to pronounce the punishment on March 18, a police officer said.
The 2012 flare-up marked a dark chapter in the spectacular story of Maruti. Such was the impact of the unrest that the plant, which can make 550,000 cars a year, had to be shut down for nearly five weeks.
An impression had gained ground that the company was looking at Gujarat with keener interest. Gurgaon owes its dramatic rise as an industrial and financial poster boy to Maruti's decision in the 1970s to open a plant there.
The rampage had focused attention on the wide gap between the remunerations of contract labourers and permanent employees and how it became a source of strife on a modern shop floor. The 20-minute clash on July 19, 2012, was apparently triggered by an alleged caste slur by a supervisor on a Dalit worker who is among those convicted of murder today.
Hours after the verdict today, the workers sought to bring the focus back on the tense industrial relations, underscoring the mass acquittal.
Vrinda Grover, counsel for the Maruti workers, claimed the acquittal of 117 workers unequivocally demolished the foundation of the prosecution case. The legal team, Grover said, would challenge the verdict in a higher court.
"The judgment vindicates our stand that a very large number of workers were falsely implicated to prejudice the public opinion and project an exaggerated and alarming version of the incident. The question to ask today is who will be held accountable for the incarceration that these 117 suffered for over two years."
On the 13 convicted, Grover said in a statement: "What is important to understand is that these 13 are the office-bearers of the union and the main leaders. They have been implicated in the case and management witnesses have deposed against them because they stand for the rights of workers. They are paying the price of championing the cause of workers. One man very regrettably lost his life in the fire at the Manesar plant. But there is less than tenuous evidence to link any of these 13 workers to the fire."
The police had accused 148 employees of setting fire to five parts of the plant, including the first-floor HR office.
The charred body of Dev was found after the blaze was doused. The police had said Dev was an asthma patient and became unconscious after inhaling smoke and got trapped in the fire.
The workers were charged with murder, attempt to murder, arson, rioting with weapons, destruction of property and assault. The violence had left over 40 people injured, mostly supervisors. Two Japanese executives had suffered "minor" injuries.
The company had alleged that Dev was "burnt to death by the mob" of workers. The union had accused the company of blocking the gates and unleashing "bouncers" and hired criminals on labour leaders during talks in the HR wing.
The police had initially claimed a Maoist link. But the claim could not be established.