Tag Archive | Labour laws

Vedanta Workers’ Wage Struggle ‘Not Entertainable’ : NHRC – By Mukesh Jhangiani

English: NHRC logo

NHRC (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                           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.

English: Vedanta Nagar Lanjigarh

Vedanta Nagar Lanjigarh (Photo: Wikipedia)

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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Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                    November 3, 2002

Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Notwithstanding Supreme Court directives, States claim they have ”serious difficulties” in raising the strength of judges to dispense justice to the wronged, whose ranks continue to swell.

Informed sources say the matter also figured at the Chief Ministers’ conference in the past fortnight and the Centre has been requested to make ”necessary submissions” before the apex court on financial constraints in implementing its judgement.

The court judgement on March 21 favoured a ten per cent annual increase in judges strength over the next five years, which is estimated by Law and Justice Ministry officials as likely to cost thousands of crores of Rupees.
Considering population, India is rated by experts to have among the lowest number of judges in the world, only 10.5 per million people in India as against 50.9 in Britain, 57.7 in Australia, 75.2 in Canada, and 107 in the United States.
The never-ending pendencies and all too frequent adjournments– which delay and proverbially deny justice– symptomise the teetering state of the country’s judicial system. It may have unseated a prime minister but it is known to routinely let common criminals– blue collar and white collar– slip away.
Top law professionals acknowledge that the shockingly low– 6.5 per cent– conviction rate in serious crimes tells potential law-breakers they have a 93.5 per cent chance of getting away.
”That,” says Prof Satyaranjan Sathe, Honorary Director of Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, a Pune-based private research group, ”is one of our biggest worries– there is not much out there to deter a violator.”
— January 2, 1975: An explosion at a public function at Samastipur, Bihar kills India’s Railways Minister. The case is transferred to nine judges, statements of two of seven accused have been recorded and key witnesses dropped– as untraceable or not having come forward.
— January 10, 1999: A reckless driver in the Capital mows down six human lives in a night. The accused is pursuing Business Administration studies abroad while the trial continues.
— July 25, 2001: Driving home from Parliament during lunch break, a Member is shot dead in broad daylight as she arrives at her official residence barely a kilometre away. Eleven men charged are in jail, awaiting trial.
— February 23, 2002: A co-accused in shooting a bartender in May 2000 for not serving a drink is arrested as prime accused in the murder of a young man who dances with his sister at a wedding. The first trial is on. The accused is in judicial custody in the second matter, charges for which are yet to be framed.
Not just thugs or criminals, even professionals, administrators or businessmen are not afraid to break the law.
— August 21, 1989: Political foes allegedly plant a report in leading newspapers about huge offshore accounts supposedly held by a future Prime Minister. Leading politicians are named conspirators, but not one is convicted in 13 years. The simplest thing might have been to start by nailing those who planted the story. As an on line critic put it, the Press ”played a nefarious role in broadcasting these forgeries” and should bring out these names.
— March 12, 1993: Explosions rock several areas in Mumbai, killing 300, with RDX smuggled into the country by bribing a customs official Rs 20 lakhs to look away. The trial continues.
— August 8, 1995: A judge orders Delhi Municipal Corporation to compensate survivors of an employee who died after 15 years of abuse, and deduct the payment from the salary of ”the responsible officer.” Lawyers say the system is lazy and ill-equipped to punish officers in such cases; Taxpayers usually end up paying. No lessons are learnt.
— November 19, 1999: An industrialist owning more than one companies is allowed by a court to shut down one of them– a soft drink plant– reportedly after denying wages to hundreds of workers for eight months. Fired employees are in courts seeking statutory wages.
— January 4, 2000: A list made public unmasks thousands of big-spending industrialists defaulting on huge borrowings from State-owned banks, creating non-performing assets now touching Rs 110,000 crore. Cases continue, at further expense to taxpayers.
Examples abound. Years pass before trials take place, giving the guilty ample time to manipulate evidence or break witnesses. After a while memories may fade anyway, making testimonies easier to shake.
Critics argue that such a legal system is itself the best bet for an offender trying to escape punishment.
Even in India’s trumpeted labour laws, for instance, ”deterrent punishment is usually not provided. But even where it is provided, Courts tend to take a lenient view of offences,” said a veteran labour administrator, requesting anonymity.
Labour tribunals, the Government official went on, may help employees against small employers, but ”when we face big employers, we are stuck in technicalities that consume years.”
The chilling reality was spelt out matter-of-factly by an employer to an employee considering legal recourse over years of harassment. ”Remember, I have the organisation behind me, I won’t even have to go to Court. Our lawyers will do that. I will just hand over the file to them. You, on the other hand, will be on your own– whether it takes five years or seven years or longer!”
Lawyers with decades of experience say such attitudes are not altogether uncommon, nor such threats empty.
Critics say India’s judicial system is in a mess, with cases going on and on for years, giving little respite to the wronged and plenty of leeway to wrongers. The issue has often figured in Parliament.
India’s senior and subordinate judiciaries between them have less than 13,000 officers ranging from Munsifs to the Chief Justice and almost 24 million cases pending.
More than a fourth of them– 26.7 per cent– or 5.3 million cases have been in courts longer than three years, Home Ministry officials say.
Worse. More than half a million cases have been pending for over a decade– the bulk in the High Courts of Allahabad, 2,88,472; Calcutta, 1,27,190; Punjab and Haryana, 49,951; Bombay, 28,131; and the Capital, 35,865.
But the figures do not even begin to tell the impact on millions of lives at the receiving end of such dispensation.
Forty-eight years after a complainant filed a petition, Madhya Pradesh High Court was yet to deliver the verdict. Bihar High Court had a 47-year-old case pending, Calcutta High Court, a 43-year-old case, and Rajasthan High Court, a 42-year-old case pending.
Judgements in hundreds of cases are being delivered long after the hearing is over. At one count, Madras High Court alone had judgements pending in 566 cases, 229 of them six months after the hearing. A far cry, indeed, from what victims need !
”The consumer of justice,” India’s Chief Justice once observed, ”wants unpolluted, expeditious and inexpensive justice. In the absence of it, instead of taking recourse to law, he may be tempted to take the law in his own hands.”
In lay man’s terms: One should be able to walk into a court and walk out with a verdict within at most a few months.
Knowing that justice would be swift and punishment severe should deter perhaps a large many potential violators, reducing burden on courts and the exchequer and ending the prevailing cynicism.
Currently, experts fault mainly two key factors– complex and inefficacious laws and procedures and shortage of judges and courts.
They say Indian laws, procedures and practices tend to be cumbersome and ineffective.
The 93-year-old Code of Civil Procedures just amended seeks to compress the time frame for disposal of all civil cases within one year by setting a time limit for every stage of litigation and allowing at most three adjournments.
But it is yet to be seen how the changes work in practice.
On reforms in criminal justice system, a committee set up by the Home Ministry in November 2000 has yet to submit its findings. Its Chairman, V S Malimath, a retired judge who once served as a High Court Chief Justice in Karnataka and then in Kerala, has been busy the last two years writing effective procedures to punish crime.
The Judge recently told a conference of professionals that people ”have by and large lost confidence in the criminal justice system. Wherever I go people ask:
— How is it that when everyone around knows that the accused has committed the offence, the Courts find reason to acquit him?
— Why is it that when one Court finds the accused guilty, the High Court says he is not, and the Supreme Court says he is guilty?
— Why is it that it takes so many years, sometimes decades to dispose of criminal cases?
— How is it that the rich and the powerful who commit serious crimes are seldom punished?”
The paucity of courts is another key problem, experts say. And it’s compounded by vacancies. India’s 21 High Courts with a strength of nearly 650 judges have almost 150 vacancies and 12,000 plus subordinate courts have 1,684 vacancies. Almost a third of labour courts also remain unfilled.
Fifteen years ago, the Law Commission of India in its report titled ‘Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint’ recommended raising the strength to at least 50 judges per million citizens.
As the Commission put it, India was persisting in a pattern of conscious judicial under-staffing followed by the British rulers in keeping with their colonial interests.
The findings were shelved. The case arrears kept mounting.
Some eighteen months ago, the authorities launched so-called Fast Track Courts to deal with long pending cases of heinous crimes and those involving undertrials in prison, the idea being that no one should be in prison longer than necessary.
More than 800 Fast Track Courts now working are reported to have cleared nearly 64,000 cases.
Experts say they see no reason why fast Track Courts should not cover undertrials on bail– to put them where they belong. They say the move has either not been considered or has been dismissed not to inconvenience those resourceful enough to obtain bail in heinous offences.
Imagine the effect, if the high and mighty on bail found guilty were sent behind bars– not walking free.
Seven months ago, on March 21, the apex court ordered a phased increase in the strength of judges over the next five years.
In mid-July, the Union Government announced it had ”initiated necessary action” to increase the strength of Judges in Union Territories in compliance with the judgement.
The first sign of trouble, sources say, came at a meeting convened by Finance Minister Jaswant Singh on September seven at which State Finance Ministers voiced ”serious difficulties regarding the Constitutional, financial and administrative issues involved in implementing the Supreme Court judgement of 21-3-2002.”
On an average, a court costs Rs 25 lakhs to set up– Rs 15 lakhs to build the court room, Rs five lakh to furnish it and install computers and another Rs five lakhs to build judges’ residence– and Rs 11 lakhs a year to run.
Officials estimate that the cost of adding the numbers of judges as per the apex court directive may exceed Rs 10,000 crores.
The State Finance Ministers expressed difficulties pertaining to pay scales and other service conditions of subordinate judiciary ”including increase in judge strength and all other matters related thereto.”
The States’ financial woes and fears of going ”broke” trying to implement the judgement, were mentioned by Law and Justice Minister K Jana Krishnamurthi at a news conference on the eve of the Chief Ministers’ conference. He indicated that ”we are having talks” with the States authorities after which the apex court would be approached for directions.
On October 18, the Chief Ministers’ conference ratified the Finance Ministers’ findings without making any counter proposals, leaving it to the Centre to find a cure.
According to sources, Senior officials in the Home Ministry are giving final touches to proposals setting afresh ”additional judge strength required as per pendency and workload,” taking into account existing judicial vacancies.
Sources say the proposals estimate that the number of additional judges needed on the basis of the pendency and the judges’ average case disposal rate is 1,314. Cost estimate: Rs 700 crores.
UNI MJ RP GC1010

Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani – November 3, 2002