Skip to main content

Debacle to #UrbanNaxals plank? TU activists fighting for workers' rights get bail

A workers' protest following the arrest: File photo
Counterview DeskThe recent release of four Reliance workers, first to be  implicated under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for alleged Maoist links for Bhima Koregaon violence a year ago, after the Bombay High Court set aside the extension of time granted to the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) Mumbai to file the chiargesheet, suggests that the charges of “urban Naxals” is beginning to fall apart.
Pointing this out, well-known civil rights organization, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has said that their case is “a clear example of the targeted persecution of trade union organizing as ‘terrorist’ or ‘unlawful’ activities.”
A statement signed by Deepika Tandon, Shahana Bhattacharya, secretaries, PUDR, says that although all arrested were entitled to default bail in April 2018 itself with the expiry of the 90 day period to file the chargesheet, “the Sessions Court granted extension of time to May 2018 without affording an opportunity to the accused to be heard.”
Interestingly, says PUDR, Of the eight arrested, five are the active members of the Mumbai Electric Employees Union (MEEU), struggling to ensure decent wages, end to contractual labour, safety equipment and health coverage in multiple cases of injuries at the Reliance Energy/Infrastructure Ltd (REIL) plants.

Text of the statement:

PUDR welcomes the release on bail of four workers of Reliance Energy/ Infrastructure Ltd. (REIL) and trade union activists implicated under numerous sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for alleged Maoist links. The workers were released on December 26, 2018 on default bail after the 17 December order of the Bombay High Court setting aside the extension of time granted to ATS Mumbai to file the chargesheet in April 2018.
Months before June 6 and August 28, when 10 rights activists were arrested under UAPA on fabricated connections to the Bhima Koregaon violence, workers at RIEL were the first to be targeted for alleged ‘Maoist’ links at Elgaar Parishad.
Ever since their arrests in January 2018, the REIL workers have continued to languish behind bars, and their case is a clear example of the targeted persecution of trade union organizing as ‘terrorist’ or ‘unlawful’ activities. Although all arrested were entitled to default bail in April 2018 itself with the expiry of the ninety day period to file the chargesheet, the Sessions Court granted extension of time to May 2018 without affording an opportunity to the accused to be heard, which was immediately challenged by the workers.
Their struggle for release was dealt a second blow when their lawyer, Arun Ferreira, was also arrested on fabricated UAPA charges under the same case on 28 August 2018. The belated intervention by the High Court to ensure their release on bail after 11 months in custody is reflective of the absence of even a prima facie case against the accused to sustain this prosecution.
The workers, all migrant labour from Telengana, were among six raided and arrested on January 12, 2018 (one other had been arrested on January 11, and one on January 25), and the order of the Bombay High Court entitles them to mandatory bail after being in custody for more than 11 months.
Placard reads: Defending (right-wingers) Bhide and Ekbote under Naxal pretext
Of the eight arrested, five, namely Satyanarayan Rajayya Karrela, Babu Shankar Buchayya Vanguri, Shankarayya Lingayya Gunde, Ravi Rajanna Maarampalli and Saidul Narsimha Singapanga are the active members of the Mumbai Electric Employees Union (MEEU), which has been struggling to ensure decent wages, an end to contractual labour, safety equipment and health coverage in multiple cases of injuries at the REIL plants.
The present UAPA case comes on the heels of multiple other motivated cases filed by REIL management against workers and union members over the years. In December 2017, management of REIL had refused to issue ESI card to an injured workman to facilitate his transfer to Sion hospital for proper medical treatment, as a result of which he died the next day. The workers went on an impromptu strike for a few hours on 19 December 2017, pursuant to which the management was compelled to issue the statutorily mandated ESI cards to all.
However, REIL filed FIRs against four workers for organizing the strike. In 2007, six workers were arrested under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) for allegedly disrupting the supply of essential services of electricity distribution, which was later scrapped on the admission of the State Government in court that there was no evidence to substantiate the charges. Nevertheless, most of them remain terminated from their employment and have not been reinstated since.
After the arrests in January 2018, family members of some workers have been evicted from their rented premises, and all continue to face routine harassment from the police. Other workers were also interrogated and harassed for many days. One person interrogated by the ATS in relation to the case committed suicide. This created such terror among the workers and union members.
As a result, the struggle for ensuring safety, permanent jobs and better wages of Reliance workers has taken a dark turn. There has further been a concerted campaign in the media to portray them as associates of the banned Maoist party, piggybacking on the nation-wide paranoia orchestrated by the ruling dispensation against so-called ‘Urban Naxals’ apparently raising funds for, and undertaking recruitment, for a banned organization.
With the acquisition of REIL by Bombay Suburban Electric Supply to Adani Transmission, Reliance has sought to wash its hands of its statutory obligations towards workers, claiming them to be employed by the contractor and not them, even though cases pending against the workers have been filed by Reliance themselves. In fact, in one of the statements submitted as part of the chargesheet Reliance management claims that the workers had ‘Maoist’ links.
The nexus between the management and the state administration has ensured that those demanding an end to contractual labour, low wages, unsafe and perilous working conditions are ensnared in the endless trials and tribulations of UAPA.

Comments

TRENDING

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

TN woman's No Caste, No Religion struggle 'follows' ideals of Marx, Ambedkar, Periyar

By Sheshu Babu*
In these days of rising communal tensions, a courageous woman from Tamil Nadu achieved her dream of obtaining 'No Caste, No Religion' certificate through persistent struggle. This is quite a significant achievement. It comes alongside some colleges in West Bengal introducing 'humanity', 'agnostic' , 'secular' or 'non-religious' in the application forms for online submission for students who are unwilling to disclose their faith.

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

US Kashmiri diaspora body: World leaders, UN 'not acting', India enjoys total impunity

Counterview Desk
Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly session, to begin on September 17 in New York, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, secretary-general of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum, a non-profit organization based in Ohio, US, claiming to focus on providing information on Kashmir, has regretted that despite "violent" behaviour of Indian authorities in Kashmir, they enjoy "total impunity" across the world.

Modi used to 'run errands' during Emergency, his role was that much: Top JP associate

By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp exposure, well-known Gujarati critic, journalist and activist Prakash N Shah, who had been among the main contact persons of Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) in Gujarat, has recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “merely running errands” during the Emergency (1975-77) period, adding the PM’s stature has been “sought to be unnecessarily inflated”, though adding, he is not saying this to “belittle him.”

Jharkhand riverine terminal: 485 families 'displaced', lose land, livelihood in Sahibgunj

Counterview Desk
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposes to inaugurate on Thursday India’s second riverine Multi-Modal terminal (MMT) at Sahibganj in Jharkhand, built at a cost of Rs 290 crore reportedly in a record time of about two years, several civil rights organizations* have said that the government has failed to address the high-profile terminal’s social and environmental concerns.

Now clampdown on rally, arrest of pro-freedom activists in Pak-occupied Kashmir

Counterview Desk
In a fresh evidence, international human rights organizations are not just confining their attention on the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), whose special status was taken away by the Government of India in early August, leading to an unprecedented clampdown on the region. They have simultaneously begun focusing on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), where the situation is said to be worsening.
Thus, the International Human Rights Council ((IHRC) Hong Kong (HK), a top human rights organisation, said to be working towards to the promotion peace, equality, fundamental rights and social justice “as enunciated in the UN Human Rights Charter and other instruments of human rights”, has noted now a new wave of independence movement has struck PoK.  With offices in US, UK, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and having Kirity Roy and Lenin Raghuvanshi as IHRC office bearers from India, in a statement, it has claimed that on September 7 one of the biggest pro-Independenc…

Govt of India 'moves' to hold Assam-type foreigners' tribunals across India, warns report

Counterview Desk
A People’s Tribunal on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has warned in its interim jury report that two recent notifications of the Government of India may lay down the groundwork for triggering an NRC process in different parts of the country, pointing towards recent moves towards this.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk
“Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

New sample suggests high pollution off Vadodara effluent channel, 'requires' action

Counterview Desk 
Gujarat’s top environmental group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has sharply criticized the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s (GPCB’s) “on-serious, casual letter” dated September 5, which allegedly suggests that the top state state agency does not favour taking any action Central Gujarat’s effluent treatment plant, Vadodara Enviro Channel Ltd (VECL).