November 21, 2010
Vedanta Workers’ Wage Struggle ‘Not Entertainable’ – NHRC
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – India’s National Human Rights Commission has dismissed a complaint against authorities’ alleged inaction on human rights violations of workers of a multinational company in Orissa.
”Not entertainable” was how the Commission dubbed the complaint dated September 8, 2010 pertaining to an August 31, 2010 night incident at Vedanta Resources’ aluminium project at Lanjigarh.
The incident involved a hundred-odd policemen swinging batons at thousands of agitated unpaid Vedanta Resources workers, injuring 25 of them and throwing an unspecified number of them in jail.
”The root cause,” the complaint said was ”labour demanding its salary backlog… When workers were denied their arrears, they protested but failed to get their dues and landed in jails… implicated in criminal cases.”
The protest began in the evening after talks on paying minimum wages failed and workers were ”retrenched” instead, Orissa-born complainant Radhakanta Tripathy said.
Police baton-charged protesters ”as some of the workers forcibly entered Vedanta Aluminium’s administrative office and began to destroy property,” the complaint said.
Neither the complaint, nor some media accounts make it clear why Vedanta Resources– committed to investing Rs 36,000 crores to expand the project– allegedly chose to deny workers’ dues.
It is even less clear why the Orissa Labour Department had not intervened at the first sign of trouble.
Efforts to get the status from the Orissa government’s Labour and Employment department commissioner-cum-secretary have yet to bring a reply or an acknowledgement even after three weeks.
The complaint filed before the NHRC did not say how long the workers had remained unpaid, nor the amount the company owed. It simply urged the Commission to institute an investigation.
India has more than a hundred labour laws to ”protect” workmen and workwomen, but enforcement is another matter, subject often to delays and distortion at various levels or stages.
Several laws provide imprisonment for violators, but errant employers usually get away by paying paltry fines or bribing.
Employers seldom– indeed, if ever– do time in jail or pay punitive damages– no matter the laws, no matter the violations, no matter the suffering their victims undergo on account of their actions or inaction.
No matter, indeed, Article 14 of the Constitution Judges are sworn to uphold which provides that ”the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
Critics say such circumstances may in effect encourage violations by making the breaking of the law a ”profitable” business proposition.
The government has reported that the Britain-based mining conglomerate has been denied permission to expand its Alumina refinery in Lanjigarh for allegedly having flouted norms at its existing works.
The violations reportedly adversely affected the lives of tribals and forest dwellers around Lanjigarh.
The 47-word order cited Section 36 of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 read with regulation 9 of the NHRC (Procedure) Regulations 1994, as amended.”
”Hence, no action is called for and the file is closed,” the order by a Commission assistant registrar (Law) said, without specifying the cause of the disqualification.
Asked why the Commission does not clearly say why a complaint is dismissed, officials acknowledged the need to do so in the interest of transparency but offered no explanation.
Section 36 says the Commission shall neither inquire into any matter pending before a State or other Commission nor into an alleged violation after the expiry of a year.
While the 1993 Act is spelt out on the NHRC website, the 1994 Regulations are not as easily accessible.
Asked to clarify, NHRC joint registrar A K Parashar suggested checking with information officer Jaimini Kumar Srivastava, who cited a Website list of the sort of complaints not entertained:
— Violation committed longer than a year before;
— Matters sub-judice;
— Matters Anonymous or pseudonymous;
— Matters frivolous;
— Service matters.
Asked which of those criteria applied in this case, Commission assistant registrar A K Garg told United News of India special correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani a few days later that ”our policy is not to entertain industrial disputes. That is why the complaint was dismissed.”
UNI MJ SLD 0955
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