CLOSURE OF INDUSTRIES: WORKERS’ VOICE
CLOSURE OF INDUSTRIES: WORKERS’ VOICE
Newsletter March 1998
On December 16th 1996, several workers organisations, democratic rights groups, students unions, women's groups and others came together to form the Delhi Janwadi Adhikar Manch (DJAM). It was a direct and spontaneous response to a series of Supreme Court orders relocating polluting industries and cleaning up Delhi in consonance with the Delhi Master Plan. Saheli has been a constituent member and actively involved with the DJAM since its formation.
The DJAM has been working on two major issues: (i) the dislocation of thousands of workers’ families due to the closure of factories and (ii) the demolition of jhuggi bastis and the displacement of thousands of slum dwellers. Protests, dharnas were held at the Supreme Court, Labour Ministry etc. Public meetings on the issue of closure of industries were held in various industrial areas, universities and other fora.The DJAM has also been campaigning against the Supreme Court order through distribution of leaflets, cultural programmes and rallies. Solidarity was also extended to the struggle of jhuggi dwellers against the ongoing demolition drive.
The DJAM brought out a report entitled ‘The Order That Felled a City’ analysing the politics of pollution and mass displacement of workers in Delhi. It was pointed out that workers were being unfairly penalised for failure on the part of owners of the industries to comply with statutory laws with regard to safety, effluent discharge, hazardous processes etc.
One year after the Supreme Court order DJAM undertook a survey to ﬁnd out whether or not compensation was being given, whether industries were being relocated or closed down, and further, what has been the reaction of the state and central governments? A report entitled ‘The Day After’ was released to focus attention on the dismal condition of the workers of the closed industries.
In order to publicise the voice of the silenced workers the DJAM organised a series of public hearings on the issue of closure of industries. Local hearings were held in the industrial areas of Shahdara, Okhla, Nangloi and Wazirpur, culminating in a central hearing on December 13 1997.
The public hearings were preceded by a campaign stretching from October to December '97, during which the DJAM approached workers in the various industrial areas and residential settlements. The information about the hearings was taken to the workers through leaﬂets, corner meetings, songs and street plays and they were requested to come and depose in these hearings. The message of the meetings and street plays related not only to the 168 units that are immediately affected but also to more than 9000 whose fate hangs in the balance.
Workers of affected factories came to the hearings and narrated their experiences. Some families of workers also spoke about how the Supreme Court orders had affected their lives.These statements were presented as evidence in the central hearing. The members of the jury were all well-known personalities of Delhi comprising academicians, Profs. Javed Alam, lmrana Qadeer and Dinesh Mohan, literateurs Lalit Kartikeya and Rajendra Yadav and theatre personality Habib Tanveer.
The Environment, Labour and Industries ministries of the Central government, the Central Pollution Control Board and the Central Labour Department had also been invited by the DJAM. Justices Kuldeep Singh and Saghir Ahmed, Environment lawyer M.C. Mehta, the owners of all units covered by the judgment, officials of the Labour Department Delhi, and the Chief Minister of the State, were also invited to present their own versions and statements before the hearing. Likewise, in the local hearings, owners as well as labour and police ofﬁcials had been invited to present their case.
It is unfortunate but worth noting that none of them found it necessary to come and present their version. This absence is all the more important in view of the fact that the DJAM had made a conscious departure from the blatantly unjust way in which, not once in the eleven years during the hearing of the public interest litigation ﬁled by M.C. Mehta, were the workers heard-directly or through their representative unions. That the DJAM effort to conduct a fair hearing was thus scuttled only underlines the desire to reduce the voice of the workers to further marginality. Naturally then, one of the important questions before the judges of the public hearing was to determine whether the principles of natural justice had been respected in the course of the ofﬁcial litigation. Their opinion in this regard was unanimous that they had not and that it was therefore necessary that the government and its agencies reopen the case.
Among those who deposed during the central hearing were lawyers, scientists, journalists and individuals related to human rights organizations and town planning institutions. What emerged clearly from all these presentations was ‘the fact that it was not only important to fight on immediate questions of displacement but that, in order to go to the root of the matter, it was also necessary to evolve an adequate critique and alternative to the Master Plan of Delhi which had become the “holy text" of the government and courts alike. Though the DJAM has so far been raising the issue as a political demand, it was clear that such an alternative and critique was very much possible and practically feasible. This becomes especially important since the process of drafting the new Master Plan is on, and it is legally binding on the government to put out the draft for public objections and suggestions before notifying it in the gazette.
In their verdict the judges noted that it was a matter of deep concern that a public interest litigation had become the instrument of depriving 50,000 workers of their livelihoods. They further observed that since, in this whole process, the principles of natural justice have been violated, the case needs to be re-opened. Alongside the "holy text" of the Master Plan on which the order bases itself, should be drastically changed. They also declared that the government should set up a machinery which can look into the pollution-related aspects of technologies before they are put into public use. Workers’ and industry representatives should be a part of such a machinery.
The judges expressed serious concern over non-payment of wages and compensation till date and stated that the same should be immediately disbursed. In case there is any problem regarding the identity and precise numbers of workers, full weight should be given to the statements of workers in that respect. The judges further noted that workers’ should also have a right over the land vacated by the relocation of units and only after taking their opinion should the future use of that land be decided upon.
After the public hearing DJAM conducted a campaign to take the verdict to the people through pamphlets, songs and street plays. In the pamphlet workers were urged to demand answers to their questions from the leaders of political parties busy with the election process.
The DJAM also conducted a survey to focus attention on the effect of closure of industries on the families of the workers. The release of the report, emphasising the heavy burden women have to bear, coincides with the International Women's Day.