On January 12, 2018, the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police picked up four workers of Reliance Industries, a contractor in the same company and another casual worker from Thane. A workers’ union activist was arrested a day before. They have been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon event which had taken place barely two weeks before the arrest.
However, as the case unfolded, it became clear that the arrests had no connection to the Bhima Koregaon programme. The ATS arrested another Reliance worker on January 25. The workers have been charged with various sections of UAPA and not under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and yet the case is registered as a MCOCA case.
Nine months later, the arrested workers are still in jail in Mumbai. Following the arrests, on 15th January, the Mumbai Electric Employees Union leaders met the secretary of the Maharashtra home department to protest the action of the ATS. They also met the ATS officers on 17th January. The union leaders then wrote to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on 30th January. None of this has had any effect.
The police claimed in the court that these workers are Maoists and living with false identities. This in spite of the fact that evidence was submitted that they are regular employees of Reliance Energy and that they are members of a registered trade union, have been in service for 5-15 years and have permanent addresses. The police further claimed that they found Maoist literature from the workers homes, as if this qualified them to be arrested as terrorists.
It is very obvious that that the Maharashtra state used the opportunity provided by the Bhima-Koregaon violence to lay baseless charges against the workers with the aim of terrorizing them because they are active union members. Five of the workers of Reliance Energy/Infrastructure are the founders and committee members of the Mumbai Electric Employees Union. For years, this union has been in the forefront of the struggle of workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions.
All the eight arrested are migrants from the Andhra Pradesh/Telangana regions. Neither a raid notice nor an arrest warrant was produced to the workers before being arrested. Their homes were turned upside down, and personal belongings ransacked. They have confided to their families and lawyers in private that they were beaten up in custody. The families are in extreme poverty and eking out an existence with some help. The mother of one of the workers was so shocked by the arrest of her son that she died two days after he was taken into custody. The workers’ school-going children have had to drop out as their tuition fees have been pending for months now.
MEL condemns this most unjust attack on and violation of the rights of the workers and use of UAPA to terrorise anyone who is organising in defence of rights.