THE construction of IIT-Mandi campus in Kamand area has been going on since September 2013. At present, around 650 workers are involved in the construction work. Since the beginning of construction, no labour laws have been followed by the construction company employed by the premier institute and labour contractors. Almost two years have passed, but statutory and mandatory provisions have not been implemented. The role of the state government, district administration and the labour department has been questionable as they remained mute spectators to the brazen violation of the law of the land by the company and labour contractors. Rather these agencies have been in connivance with the construction firm, Mumbai-based Supreme Infrastructure, and petty contractors. This is evident from the fact that despite the workers taking up the issues with the labour department and submitting memoranda to the district administration, no effort was made by the executing agencies to deliver justice to the workers.
In this background, the workers had no other option but to launch agitation and initiate struggle over several issues including deposit of EPF amount collected from them and disbursement of wages. The workers staged gate meetings and protest demonstrations to achieve their demands, but once again the government and its agencies did not pay any heed to the workers’ demands. This forced the workers were forced to go on a strike on June 13. As per plan, the workers were holding peaceful protest demonstrations everyday. But on June 16, a new situation emerged on the IIT-Mandi’s Kamand campus as movement of goons, bouncers and hired-killers with loaded weapons started creating fear among the workers, who were also threatened with dire consequences if they didn’t halt their strike. The IIT- Kamand Workers’ Union, affiliated to CITU, decided to hold a demonstration on June 19 in district headquarters Mandi. The workers marched to the deputy commissioner’s office and handed over memoranda to the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police. Besides giving the chronology of events and apprising them about the attempts being made by the construction company and its labour contractor Rajeev Sharma to vitiate the atmosphere on the campus, the workers demanded implementation of labour laws, the amount of Rs 24 lakh collected from workers and not deposited with provident fund organization and balance payment of workers be given.
Around 10:15 AM on June 20, when the workers were gathering for a protest demonstration, suddenly the hired goons of the labour contractor started firing bullets on the workers in which union president Sunder Lal, vice president Gumat Ram, general secretary Gulab Chand and two others sustained serious injuries and had to be hospitalised. As the bullets were being fired, the workers and local residents reacted and seeing the wrath of people, the goons ran away. While fleeing, some of them slipped off the hills in which four goons lost their lives and a few others sustained injured. Five injured bouncers, who were shifted from Mandi Hospital to PGI in Chandigarh, later escaped from the hospital.
In protest, the CITU state committee organised state-wide demonstrations on June 22 and demanded black-listing of the company and the contractor, filing of a case of attempt to murder against contractor Rajeev Sharma, IIT Director and Kamand police chowki in-charge, withdrawing of false cases against workers, sacking of police chowki in-charge, and implementation of labour laws. The state committee of CITU held the state government responsible for the act. The state committee of CPI(M) constituted a fact-finding team to look into the incident. The committee, led by Shimla Municipal Corporation mayor Sanjay Chauhan, included CPI(M) state secretariat members Kuldeep Tanwar and Prem Gauttam, Shimla Municipal Corporation deputy mayor Tikender Singh Panwar, party’s Mandi district secretary Bhupender Singh, retired SDM Mohar Singh and advocate Sanjeev Bhushan. The fact-finding committee visited the IIT-Mandi campus on June 24.
Workers at the site told the fact-finding committee that the contractors had not pay wages for the last two months and EPF was not deposited for the last 18 months. They submitted a memorandum to the Mandi Deputy Commissioner on June 19 complaining that some un-identified goons had been threatening workers since June 16 onwards who were having guns and swords in their possession. “On June 20, around 9.30 AM as we were having gate meeting on the campus regarding the demands, 10-12 goons came with arms and swords in their hands and opened fired towards the workers and kept on saying that why we were having the rally and halted the work. The moment they fired towards workers, there was panic and we do not know what happened afterwards. It happened in front of GM of the Supreme Construction Shirkant as he was also present during the incident. The police came after two hours of the incident. All 10-12 goons kept on saying from June 16 June onwards that they are employees of Rajeev Sharma, contractor. After the firing they burnt the vehicles which were nearby and there was a heavy blast in one of the cars as it got burnt,” said Mrs Reeta, a worker.
Vinod Kumar, supervisor of Supreme Construction, said that he had informed the district police and CID at 9.35 am that 10-12 goons having pistols and swords in their hands are heading towards the workers and threatening them.
Officers of labour and EPF departments informed the fact-finding team that only 150 workers were enrolled out of over 500 workers with the EPF department through labour contractors and one contractor has not deposited the EPF amount for the last 18 months. “We got the complaints 3-4 months back regarding the non-depositing of EPF… Neither CPWD nor Supreme Construction has informed the department about delay in payments of workers which includes the EPF issue,” said an official.
Supreme Construction Company general manager Shrikant informed the team that he is having 475-500 workers and all were employed through labour contractors: Rajeev Sharma (120 labourers/started work April 2015 onwards); Lalit Sharma (220 labourers); Nand Lal (120 labourers); and Chuni Lal (30 labourers). He informed that he used to pay all dues of the workers but this time on June 14 he transferred Rs 17 lakh through RTGS into Nand Lal's account and Nand lal cleared the outstanding payments till March 2015. Nand Lal have paid the wages and also cleared the EPF amount of the workers. He transferred Rs 17 lakh to Lalit Sharma account June 16 but he refused to pay to the workers.
The president of local panchayat Mohd Alli told the team that 10-12 goons had been roaming in the village since 2-3 days before the incident. They were staying in a guest house near the police station and always remained under the influence of drugs. He also said that Supreme Construction was not paying the dues of workers. The owner of the guest house where the goons stayed said that he rented out three rooms in April and two rooms in May to Rajiv Sharma and his associate Lalit, though Sharma stayed at a different place.
The fact-finding team also met IIT-Mandi registrar Mohd Shakeel and Superintendent Engineer Mr Kapoor and they informed that the whole project is being delayed by Supreme Co and CPWD. “We have convened the meeting of workers on May 27 to resolve the long standing demands and a MoU was singed jointly by contractors and workers union to pay the dues by June 17. We have written to the higher authorities that no arms and ammunition should be allowed by any private security guard in the construction site of the IIT Kamand campus. The CPWD have not submitted the incident report till date to IIT-Kamand. The CPWD is patronising the Supreme Co and no minimum labour laws are being implemented. The incidents have made a black spot in the IIT history and people are concerned about the incident,” they said. They informed that they have been called by the Deputy Commissioner at about 4 pm on June 19 to convene the meeting and resolve the same.
Superintendent of Police, Mandi, Mohit Chawla informed the team that at about 10:15 am he ordered and deployed reserve police force and by 11:30 law and order was under control at IIT Kamand campus. He has not been informed and even Deputy Commissioner did not talk to me about the memorandum which the workers submitted on June 19 about the goons having pistols and swords and they are being threatened by them. Despite that I have suspended the entire police chowki staff on June 21 itself as they failed to inform to Police Headquarters Mandi. He informed that three teams have been deployed to nab the culprits. Rajiv Sharma, however, is still absconding.
The team met Mandi DC Sandeep Kadam, ADC Rigved Thakur and ADM Vivek Chandel and they told the team that the memorandum was submitted by IIT Kamand workers on June 19 morning. The DC had asked the concerned authorities to take action regarding the culprits/goons who were having pistols and swords in their possession. He talked to IIT authorities to resolve pending issue of wages and EPF of the workmen and take appropriate action at the earliest.
Findings and Suggestions:
1. The foremost finding pertains to the total failure of the labour department of the state and the Centre. There was complete confusion over the jurisdiction and at times stated that it is a concurrent subject. The labour department should have ensured that the workers at the site are provided with the basic facility required to construct such huge projects. What to speak about having houses for the workers there were not even toilets for women workers at the site. Further the dispute redressal mechanism too was not clear as both the state and central labour department were seen passing the buck onto each other. Hence there must be a clear cut demarcation over the jurisdiction of the respective departments as many central government sponsored institutions like AIIMS, IIMs etc are coming up in the state.
2. The second important assessment pertains to the inept and incapacitated provident fund department, which does not have the machinery and the clear cut vision of intervention into such projects. Whereas the project work started 18 months ago but till date the department had no idea about the contribution of the employers to the provident fund. For projects that have a span of just two years or so this would be of great detriment to the interest of the workers. There was further confusion over the deposit of EPF. Whereas the work has been awarded to Supreme Construction not a single unit has been enrolled under that company and it was the sub-contractors of Supreme that had created an account with EPF. This ambiguity must be cleared as to who will enroll the workers with the EPF department. The committee firmly recommends that the principal contractor should enroll the workers with the EPF department.
3. The third and important element for the construction of the IIT happens to be the CPWD who is the principal employer according to the definition. The clear connivance of the official especially the Executive Engineer on site with labour contractor Rajiv has come to the fore. This was very starkly mentioned by Supreme Construction which is the principal contractor that they were coerced and forced to hand over the contract to Rajiv’s firm. However, this was denied by the Executive Engineer. Also an inter-contractor struggle was also witnessed where Rajiv was made as the crony of CPWD and heavy bribe for such a choice cannot be ruled out. Further the CPWD had a major responsibility for not just the execution of the work but also to ensure that the work is carried out by the principal contractor and there are no sub-contractors involved. There may have been labour supplier contracts but the allotment of 29 blocks to be constructed by Rajiv company itself is not just a violation but a clear cut connivance for ulterior motives. The committee strongly recommends action against A P Garg the executive engineer at site. The CPWD is also responsible for ensuring the implementation of labour laws at the site as they are the principal employers and have a solemn duty to ensure that the work is executed not just in quality but also the form in which it is carried out.
4. The administration of the IIT too has a responsibility as they are the custodians of the work in progress but unfortunately apart from the formal visits they could not ensure the smooth construction of the project. This could also be deciphered from the fact the local panchayat pradhan stated that the IIT administration too happen to be unconcerned about the woes of the local people. There was a general hostility against the IIT administration in the environment that could be easily gauged. Frequent interventions and monitoring by the IIT is required.
5. The functioning of the district administration is a classic example of utter failure in functioning. The team could make out the discordant and lack of communication between the offices of the Deputy Commissioner Mandi and Superintendent of Police. Though the memorandum of the workers on June 19 very unambiguously stated of an impending trouble as they mentioned about the movement of the people with firearms since June 16 but the SP office stated they were not even aware of it. Similarly even the local police was informed about their (people with firearms allegedly belonging to Rajiv company), movement and apparently were staying just 10 metres from the police post, still efforts were not made to nab them. It could be stated that the police if not involved definitely facilitated their terror tactics. The total callous attitude of the police could also be seen from the fact that the alleged people who fired were allowed a safe passage from PGI Chandigarh, which is nothing but sheer subterfuge. Therefore, the team firmly recommends appropriate action against the district administration and mere suspension of the police post personnel will not serve the purpose.