Almost five years after violence broke out at the Maruti plant in Manesar, the Gurgaon district court on Saturday afternoon sentenced 13 of the 31 convicted last week to life imprisonment. In addition, four others have been sentenced to five years in prison, most of whom have already undergone over four years of incarceration. The remaining 14 accused will be released on the basis of sentence served, and on the payment of a nominal fine of Rs 2,500 per person. The incident in question had occurred on July 18, 2012, when an altercation had broken out between workers and the management of the plant, allegedly over the dismissal of an employee. In the violence that ensued, HR General Manager Awanish Kumar Dev was burnt to death, and 90 others were injured. About 148 workers were arrested.
Additional District and Sessions Judge R P Goyal, on March 10, acquitted 117 of the accused and convicted 31 others — 13 were charged with murder and 18 with minor offences such as rioting. After the sentencing Saturday afternoon, both the prosecution and defence said they would take the matter further to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
“The Additional Sessions Judge has sent a strong signal to labour workers and union members that they cannot take the law in their hands by committing violence of this magnitude… We will challenge the judgment in the HC against the acquittals, and also for inadequacy of sentence against the convicts,” said Vikas Pahwa, counsel, Maruti Suzuki.
Defence counsel Vrinda Grover said, “We will file appeals against all convictions in the HC. The evidence, as it stands, cannot withstand legal scrutiny. There is no evidence to link these workers to the murder. The 13 who have been convicted, it’s important to remember that they were the leaders of the union. Therefore, it is clear that this is targeted framing of these persons. We hope for justice in the superior court.”
Various workers’ unions, whose representatives were present at the court during the sentencing, held a meeting Saturday evening to decide the future course of action.
“It has been decided that to protest against the judgment, 30,000 workers at various factories, including four Maruti plants, will go on a ‘tool-down’ strike for one hour on Saturday, between 9 and 10 am,” said Khushi Ram, a member of Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union. A mass rally will also be organised by workers on March 23 in Manesar.
TIMELINE: A fight spanning more than four years
* Violence breaks out at Maruti’s Manesar plant on July 18, 2012, allegedly over the dismissal of a factory worker, leading to the death of Human Resources manager Awanish Kumar Dev and injuries to 90 others, including police personnel.
* 148 workers arrested in relation to the crime, with 99 of them having been arrested within two days of the incident itself. While a majority of
workers managed to get bail over the next four years, nine remained in prison.
* On March 10, 2017, Additional District and Sessions Judge, R P Goyal, acquitted 117 of the 148 accused and convicted the remaining 31 in the case.
* On March 17, 2017, the court hears the arguments of the prosecution and defence, with the former arguing for capital punishment for the 13 charged with murder, and seven years’ imprisonment for the others. The defence, meanwhile, asks for life for those charged with murder, and immediate release for the others on the basis of “sentence undergone”.
* On March 18, 2017, the court sentences 13 of the 31 accused to life imprisonment. Remaining 18 were charged with minor offences such as rioting, of which four accused get five years’ imprisonment. Remaining 14 will be released on the basis of sentence undergone and payment of a nominal fine.
* In the wake of the sentencing, the prosecution and the defence both say they will appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
* The Maruti counsel says they will move the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the acquittals and “inadequacy of sentence against the convicts”, while the defence says they will challenge the verdict as there is “no evidence to link these workers to the murder”.