Contract labour loses right to permanent employment
Blast justice done after eight years
Axe hovers over UP Assembly
Excise turns Khadim’s screw
Atal talks, mandir masons toil
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CONTRACT LABOUR LOSES RIGHT TO PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
In a major blow to millions of contract labourers and daily wage earners in the country, the Supreme Court today held that they did not have the right to “automatic absorption” in the public sector companies they worked for.

This is a reversal of its own 1996 judgment in an Air-India case and decisions in several cases where the apex court had held that even canteen employees had a right to permanent employment.

Today’s judgment was delivered by a five-member full Constitution bench comprising Justices B.N. Kirpal, Syed Shah Mohammad Quadri, M.B. Shah, Ruma Pal and K.G. Balakrishnan.

The bench quashed the 1976 notification issued by the Centre prohibiting use of contract labour in Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs). Cleaners, sweepers and watchmen will also be among contract labourers not entitled to automatic absorption.

However, the judgment will be operative with prospective effect and not with retrospective effect. All labourers absorbed earlier will continue to be permanent employees.

The decision came on a petition filed by Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) challenging the July 1998 judgment of Calcutta High Court directing absorption of about 350 contract labourers in the company’s Paharpur stockyards.

SAIL has more than 25,000 contract labourers handling incidental jobs in its plants, mines and stockyards. Automatic absorption of more than 11,000 of them after the Air-India case ruling had resulted in a financial implication of about Rs 80 crore to the company. The cumulative effect was calculated at Rs 800 crore.

With today’s judgment, SAIL, which has already drawn up plans to downsize its permanent workforce by 20,000 through a voluntary retirement scheme over the next three years, will be able to reduce its liabilities and cut down costs.

Two propositions came before the court — “appropriate government” and “automatic absorption”. Government companies where the Centre or state are holding majority stake would be deemed to be the “appropriate authority” or “government”. This is within the purview of Article 12 of the Constitution which defines “State”. When the government has a majority stake, the concern is automatically deemed to be a “state” within the meaning of Article 12.

After the 1976 notification, the “contractor” vanished and there was deemed to be a “direct relationship between the principal employer and the contract labour”.

Today’s ruling will be a shot in the arm for several navratna PSUs like SAIL, ONGC and NTPC, which had initiated a process of setting up a joint venture where they could transfer their large army of contract labourers. The proposal was first mooted to duck the rigours of the Air-India ruling, now overturned.

   

 
 
BLAST JUSTICE DONE AFTER EIGHT YEARS 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
After sitting for eight years, India’s only surviving Tada court came close to winding itself up today when it pronounced Rashid Khan and five associates guilty of engineering the 1993 Bowbazar blast in which 69 died and 40 were maimed.

Judge Pranab Kumar Deb will pronounce the sentence — either death or life-imprisonment — tomorrow and finally bring the curtains down on the court which outlasted all others in the country because of the Bowbazar case.

The judge found Rashid and his henchmen — Abdul Aziz, Pannalal Jaiswal, Md Mustafa, Md Halim and Md Gulzar — guilty of causing the blast and conspiring against the nation and the interests of communal harmony. But he acquitted them of the charges of murder and damage to property for lack of “direct evidence”.

Investigations have revealed that the explosion, on the night of March 16, 1993 — four days after the Bombay serial blasts — at 267 Bepin Behari Ganguly Street, was triggered by a massive store of explosives. The impact was such that the three-storey building where the explosives were stored was blown up, three neighbouring buildings developed yawning cracks and the verandah of another building was shattered. Besides, the blast exposed the rot in the echelons of Calcutta police — the blown-up building was located about 300 yards from Lalbazar — and the various units of the CPM.

The aftershocks of the blast continued to jolt the CPM. Senior leaders Lakshmi De — who was rehabilitated as late as in May 2001 when he fought and won the Assembly polls from Vidyasagar and was then made the Left Front chief whip in the House — and Shyamali Gupta, a party-nominated member of Jadavpur University’s executive council, were hauled up. Investigations also revealed that several senior police officers were in regular touch with Rashid.

Rashid, who was known as the sultan of satta, and his five associates were arrested a day after the blast for storing explosives, including RDX. But Parvez Khan and Imtiaz Khan, two others accused in the crime, still continue to elude the police.

According to the probe team, Rashid had been storing the explosives in anticipation of a communal riot. The city had just recovered from the worst riot in recent history — on December 6, 1992, the day the Babri masjid was demolished — and Mumbai was still raw with the wounds of the riots and the serial explosions. The investigations had established Rashid’s link with mafia don Dawood Ibrahim.

Sixty-five people died on the spot and four died of wounds in hospital, making the blast the worst in the city’s history. The case was transferred to the designated Tada court a few months after Rashid’s arrest.

Massive security arrangements were made in and around the city sessions court today when Rashid and the five others were brought there at noon. Their family members and friends broke down after hearing the conviction.

Soon after the judgment, one of the accused, Md Mustafa, shouted out from his enclosure asking the judge to give him “a minute”. Deb, about to leave the court, paused for some time before sitting down again. Mustafa said the hearing was incomplete as his case had not been heard yet. “No lawyer has represented my case and the verdict, therefore, is infructuous,” he alleged. But the defence lawyer, asked by the judge about the merits of Mustafa’s allegation, said he had argued on behalf of all six accused.

Both parties said they would move the Supreme Court against the Tada court’s verdict. Public prosecutors Ashok Bakshi and Naba Bose said they would challenge the judgment as the accused had been acquitted of the charges of murder and damage to property. Defence counsel Ganesh Maity said he would move the apex court challenging the verdict of the Tada court.

   

 
 
AXE HOVERS OVER UP ASSEMBLY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
The BJP top brass as well as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh may recommend the dissolution of the Assembly in October itself instead of allowing it to continue till February 2002 when its five-year tenure ends.

But the party has yet to decide whether it would recommend early polls or allow Singh to continue as caretaker chief minister for another six months.

BJP sources said the party was contemplating dissolution of the Assembly to pre-empt Samajwadi Party and Congress legislators from resigning en masse as they had threatened to do in case the Assembly continued to function beyond October 17, the day on which it was constituted after the 1996 elections.

The sources said Singh was expected to convene a special two-day Assembly session either in end-September or early-October to announce the much-trumpeted policy of earmarking a special quota for the most backward castes and then recommend the dissolution of the House.

As the last Uttar Pradesh polls threw up a hung legislature, no government came to power for almost six months. It was only after the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party decided to team up that the Assembly had its first sitting in February 1997. The BJP fell back on the Constitution to assert that a legislature would be deemed as beginning its term on the first day of the first session. But the Samajwadi Party and the Congress maintained that the tenure began on the day the poll results were notified.

Allahabad High Court is expected to clear the air when it gives its ruling on a public interest litigation contesting the official claim.

The sources said Singh, who will arrive in the capital tomorrow — a day ahead of the National Development Council meeting — was likely to brief Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the scenario and discuss the pros and cons of holding an early election.

They said based on his talks with Singh, Vajpayee would decide whether to reshuffle the Union Cabinet or expand it. They said a large section of the BJP favoured an early election in November after Diwali. The sources feel Singh would come across as power-hungry if he manages to get a six-month extension to rule.

“We don’t want to add to this impression. We have taken enough flak running a mammoth coalition government of ministers facing criminal and corruption charges,” the sources said.

Besides, an early election would help the party on the concessions it doles out to the most backward castes. “If the elections are delayed, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati may come up with strategies to dilute the impact of this move,” they said.

The BJP could do with the six-month extension to mobilise its cadre but an extension would mean the BJP will have to cope with the VHP which has threatened to start constructing the temple after its deadline expires on Shivratri.

   

 
 
EXCISE TURNS KHADIM’S SCREW 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
Still to recover from the shock of the abduction, the Roy Burman family’s shoe business had some unwanted visitors from Central excise within days of Parthapratim’s return.

Central excise teams had landed on various premises of Khadim’s to inspect the footwear company’s books.

A senior Central excise official said that an order had been received from the revenue department of the Union finance ministry about a fortnight ago to conduct a thorough probe.

“To us it appears that the state government moved heaven and earth to create pressure on Partha Roy Burman so that he tells the police everything he knows about his kidnappers,” an official said.

There have been reports that CID investigators probing the abduction have not been able to confirm their findings with Parthapratim, who is not talking about his experience during captivity, leading to whispered charges that he is not co-operating with the police.

Siddhartha Roy Burman, Partha’s brother, said he did not understand why Central excise should be investigating their business.

“As far as I know, we don’t come under Central excise laws. It is also not true that my brother Partha is not cooperating with the police. He (Partha) has told the police whatever he knew. Don’t forget that after abduction, he was kept in a dark room and under sedation. How can he say something he does not know?” he asked.

The Central excise commissioner, R. Mukhopadhyay, explained that even if Khadim’s only sells shoes made by others, the products will be liable to duty if the brand logo is embossed on them.

Sources said the police are now on the verge of solving the case but need — what they call — Parthapratim’s “co-operation” to go the last mile.

Mukhopadhyay, however, insisted that the excise inspection was unrelated to the abduction.

“It is true we are carrying out an investigation into Khadim’s business. But it is only a coincidence that the investigation started after his return from abductors. It is really unfortunate and we are full of sympathy for Partha Roy Burman,” he said.

According to one school of thought, realisation has dawned on the Centre that Parthapratim can lead its agencies to the masterminds of various shades of crime like hawala transactions.

Central excise officials in Calcutta said they had found enough “material evidence” and were now “quantifying” the excise duty that could be claimed from Khadim’s. “We found a lot of material evidence against Khadim’s when we investigated a number of job workers engaged by it,” an official said.

Once the Central excise department builds its case, there is sure to be other investigations into possible evasion of sales tax.

Mukhopadhyay said if his department’s probe led to indications of sales tax evasion, the state government will have to be called into the picture.

   

 
 
ATAL TALKS, MANDIR MASONS TOIL 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, Aug. 30: 
Rajnikantbhai Sompura has been chipping away at the marble blocks meant for the Ram mandir at Ayodhya for the past five years but he says he has never before seen such urgency in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to complete the promised structure.

Sompura’s eight-hour shifts now often stretch to 10. But even that, Rajesh Singh, the VHP supervisor at the Ram Janmabhoomi Karyalaya (workshop), maintains is “not enough’’.

Singh and the 80-odd workers at the workshop are working at a frenetic pace trying to put in place the VHP’s 10-year-old dream. Though the monsoon heat has forced a few others to go home, they are hoping for a renewed strength of 150 by September. That is also when they are expecting a final consignment of 50 trucks of carved marbles from four factories in Rajasthan.

“More than 80 per cent of the work is already complete, enough to lay the foundation and the basic structure of the planned Ram mandir,’’ says Singh. Pointing to the demand made by VHP leader Ashok Singhal that the foot-soldiers at the karyalaya show something by February, Singh adds: “There will definitely be more than that.”

Already the manual processes of cutting, carving and transporting have been automated. Two huge and four small cutting machines purr throughout the day — when there is electricity — doing, as Singh says, in three days the work that used to take three months earlier.

There are a couple of mobile cranes that splutter around intermittently, transporting intricately carved pillars that are all but ready for use. If VHP workers are to be believed, there will either be mandir or mayhem by March. They scoffed at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s recent statement that there would be a solution to the mandir-masjid dispute by March 12 next year and that he had been talking to “many people at many levels”.

Saras Sharma, VHP worker and editor of Ayodhya Samvad, says: “The last time Vajpayee spoke to an important Sangh delegation was in March this year, after that there has been nothing. There cannot be a solution if the VHP and the sadhus are not taken into confidence.”

Vajpayee had then met a 21-member Sangh delegation that included Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Acharya Dharmendra, V.H. Dalmiya and Swami Chinmayananda.

The delegation had asked the government to return the 67 acres of land around the disputed site, which they claim belongs to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. There has been no decision on that. Ramchandra Paramhans, the chairman of the trust — the all-important temple body — is not too happy with Vajpayee’s statement either.

“The government can do and say what they want, they have compulsions of coalition politics. But the foundation of the Ram mandir will be laid as promised by March next year, the sadhus will not let it happen any other way. Our programme will not be deferred,” he said.

Kalbe Sadiq, senior member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, too, has said that neither the Babri Masjid Action Committee nor the board have been spoken to.

But the ambiguity surrounding Vajpayee’s statement has not taken away anything from the VHP’s vigorous “mandir banao” agitation.

VHP activists have begun mobilising “two crore Hindu youths” for the Ramnaam jaap programme beginning in October. The strategy for the jalabhishek that would begin next month has been neatly laid out. More that 10,000 shivlingams across the country would be bathed and congregations of youths exhorted to join the mandir movement. The Bajrang Dal has said it would rally 30 lakh youths for the various temple-related programmes. The chetavni (warning) yatra would begin sometime in November and culminate in New Delhi on January 20. Sharma says that during the yatra, the VHP, as well as the various akhara heads, would meet the Prime Minister and “spell out their plans for the penultimate day, warning him not to go against them”.

Purshottam Narain Singh, a senior VHP leader in Lucknow, says the “main” temple work will begin on February 17, Basant Panchami.

But though the VHP is all set to whip up an unprecedented movement before the Uttar Pradesh polls, a section within the Sangh parivar says all this is being done to help a beleaguered BJP cross the election hurdle. As the mahant of an important temple trust in Ayodhya says: “The actual dispute dates back to 1885. In 1950, the paramhans took it up with the government, asking permission to hold pujas at the disputed structure. Do you think there will be a solution by next March? A lot of people say a lot of things but little is happening at the ground level. The politics of mandir will continue for many more years.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.7°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.1°C (0)

Rainfall

8.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 80%

Today:

Light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder, under influence of low-pressure trough.
Sunrise: 5.20 am
Sunset: 5.55 pm
   
 

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