Maruti clashes case: Gurgaon court convicts 31, acquits 117

Out of the 31 guilty, Judge Goel convicted 13 under Section 302 for murder and attempt to murder and 18 for rioting and criminal conspiracy.

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Yadvendra Sharma is now a free man. After four years, Sharma is now one of the first accused to be acquitted for a crime he claims he did not commit. "I have witnessed the worst years of my life in Bhondsi jail. My son was two months old when they (police) arrested me. By the time I was out on bail, he didn't recognise me. What could be worse for a father when his own child does not recognise him?" said Sharma, wiping his tears.

Sharma, who was a Junior Associate at the Maruti plant at Manesar, was acquitted with 116 others by a Gurugram court in Haryana. Additional District and Sessions Judge RP Goel convicted 31 for murder, arson and rioting at the Maruti plant in Manesar in 2012 out of the 148 accused. Clashes had broken out in the plant between the workers and management, and General Manager (HR) Awanish Kumar Dev was burnt alive.

During the hearing, doctors revealed that the contents of the post-mortem report confirmed that the General Manger died of suffocation and had fractured legs.

Out of the 31 guilty, Judge Goel convicted 13 under Section 302 for murder and attempt to murder and 18 for rioting and criminal conspiracy.

Rajendra Pathak, defence lawyer for the workers, told DNA: "It is a big relief. But we are not completely satisfied. Until it is found who has killed the General Manager, how can they be found guilty?"

Public Prosecutor Anurag Hooda called the judgement "historic" and said: "It is a big win for Awanish as 13 people have been found guilty of killing him. We want capital punishment for the 13 convicted."
However, some freed workers questioned the prosecution's contention and claimed that the charges against them were based on pre-planned conspiracy by the management. Some of them vehemently denied that the workers had any hand in the murder.

"Awanishji was one of the few people in management who was aware of the workers' issues. He had a very strong bond with workers," said Sunil Kumar, a native of Ambala, who was acquitted after serving three years in prison.

"The senior management was apprehensive of the union. The workers were demanding their rights and Awanish was helpful. Who do you think would benefit the most from his death? The workers or the company?" Kumar added.

The incident occurred on July 18, 2012, when an argument between the management and workers at the plant turned violent.

The police arrested all 148 workers, including union president Ram Meher and treasurer Suresh Dhool, and charged them with the murder of Awanish and rioting, in which part of the plant was vandalised. The company sacked 546 of its permanent workers and 1,700 contract workers.

It was only after the Supreme Court granted bail to two workers last year that others, with similar charges against them, also got bail. Most of them had already spent nearly three years in prison.

The defence counsel believes that more workers will be set free in the next hearing. "Under Section 323 and 325 of IPC, 14 people were held guilty. The punishment varies from 3 years of jail to 7 years. Every one of them has already served the duration, so we are expecting more of to be released in the next hearing," said Pathak.

The next hearing to fix the duration of imprisonment will be held on March 17. Outside the court, family members waited in hope to see if their loved ones would be acquitted by the court. Family members of Maruti worker Sarabjeet Singh had come all the way from Ambala to hear what would happen to their son.

Speaking to DNA, his father Kuljeet Singh said: "We were very happy when he confirmed his job in Maruti Suzuki. It had never occurred to me that a place which he was part of would make make him suffer so badly." Sarabjeet, who has been held guilty of rioting, will have to wait till March 17 when the court will determine his sentence.

Even before the infamous incident on July 18, the plant saw a number of strikes and protests. In 2011-2012, more than 4,000 workers had gone on strike three times to demand better working conditions and the right to form an independent trade union. Though the union was formed, relations between the workers and the management continued to be strained.

Kuldeep Jhangu, General Secretary, Maruti Suzuki Kamgaar Union, stated that the court needed to do even more for workers. "The management has succeeded in plotting a conspiracy against the workers who were fighting for their rights. We now want the company to take back everyone who is acquitted and provide a suitable incentive for those suffered for more than four years."

July 18, 2012: A group of workers vandalised the Maruti Suzuki plant, and set it on fire, in which General Manager (HR) Awanish Kumar Dev died.

July 19, 2012: A Special Investigating Team set up by the orders of Government of Haryana.

July 20, 2012: Maruti sacks 548 permanent workers and around 1,700 contract workers.

July 21, 2012: Police arrest 148 workers and charge them with murder.

August 21, 2012: Maruti starts production at plant again in the presence of Quick Response Force.

February 23, 2015: SC grants two Maruti workers, Sunil Kumar and Kanwaljeet Singh, bail.

March 18, 2015: 78 accused workers were granted bail by the Gurgaon district Court.

February 19, 2017: 112 accused could not be identified by prosecution witnesses.

March 10 , 2017: The court acquitted 117 of the accused. 13 charged with murder. Rest of the 18 charged for rooting and arson.

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