May 1, 2014

Raipur: Lakhan Sahu, Organising Secretary of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh (PCSS), and 6 other trade union activists are incarcerated in Baloda Bazar Jail having been deliberately falsely implicated by Security Officers of the Ambuja-Holcim company in a petty offence of looting a mobile and Rs. 3500. They are in jail since more than 4 months and denied bail.

Workers Protest at BhilaiWorkers Protest at Bhilai

The PCSS had begun organizing the contract workers of the Ambuja-Holcim company in the year 2010. At that time even the minimum wages were not provided, an amount was deducted even for shoes and helmet. The company would deduct its own share of PF contribution from the worker’s wage. At that time the Holcim Company was the second largest cement manufacturer in the world making 12-14% profit on investment in Chhattisgarh as opposed to merely 2-4% profit on investment internationally, and now with the merger of Lafarge-Holcim, it is the world’s largest manufacturer. Yet the Ambuja-Holcim continues to refuse to implement the Cement Wage Board Award which lays down that no contract workers should be employed in the cement production process, and if they are employed in loading-unloading-packing where contract work is permitted, they are to be paid at the same rate as regular workers.

Due to the legal actions and agitations of the PCSS, workers began getting the minimum wages and bonus, but about 100 members of the union were deliberately retrenched. When the matter was raised before the Assistant Labour Commissioner, the ALC directed the company to direct that the contractors reinstate the workers otherwise he would consider cancelling their licenses. It was under these circumstances that a dispute of the Security Officer YP Singh with villagers and workers in Rawan market was taken advantage of by the company to implicate Lakhan Sahu, Bhagwati Sahu (an elected Janpad Panchayat member and peasant leader of the area) and 6 other union activists in 2 false cases. Bhagwati Sahu was in jail for 13 months before he was released on bail, and today Lakhan Sahu and 6 others are in jail.

Lakhan, Bhagwati and the PCSS had also supported the struggles of the local farmers against encroachments by the company on communal lands, against the effects of blasting on the villages, and the serious depletion of ground water due to the company’s activity. They had supported the demand that the rehabilitation policy of the state be strictly followed and that one member of the family of every land loser get a permanent job. Thus a strong democratic movement of workers and peasants was beginning to develop in the area, and it became necessary for the company to crush this.

It is pertinent that the complainants in the two cases YP Singh and Nandlal Choubey are very unpopular for their strong arm tactics, particularly YP Singh who was regularly brandishing his revolver to threaten workers and farmers. Recently a Swiss lady photographer lodged a complaint against them for manhandling her translator and guide when she tried to take photographs of the company occupying village lands.

The FIR implicating Lakhan and Bhagwati was a subsequent one filed as an afterthought only to implicate the leaders whereas Lakhan was far away at Raipur in the funeral of a niece and it was admittedly the police who phoned up Bhagwati who was attending a meeting with the Sarpanch of another village.

In the Baloda Bazar district, the cement companies seem to have a stranglehold on the administration, the police department, the mining department and pollution control department. With 6 cement factories dotting the district, and at least 3 more in the pipeline, reviving the democratic movement is the urgent   need of the hour.

Hence our appeal – Withdraw the false cases against Lakhan Sahu and 6 others lodge in Baloda Bazar jail. Release them immediately.


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