Up until a year ago, if you were to pass by the Hindustan Times House on New Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg, a small yellow and red tarpaulin tent would catch your attention. This was Ravindra Singh’s makeshift home for a good 13 years.
Singh, a former HT employee, was among the 272 employees who were fired by Hindustan Times Limited in 2004. Together, they were fighting a legal battle against the HT management for reinstatement. In October 2017, Singh was found dead on the footpath right in front of his tent. He was the 24th such employee who died waiting on the court’s verdict.
Almost a year after Singh’s death, on August 27, the Delhi High Court gave its judgement in favour of former HT employees.
The High Court’s single-judge Bench was hearing a petition filed by the HT management against the execution of orders passed by the Industrial Tribunal Delhi in January 2012 in favour of the sacked employees. Justice Vinod Goel, dismissing HT’s petition, ordered the management to deposit the wages of all workmen for the period between January 2014 and August 31, 2018.
The Bench ordered, “To begin with, let the management deposit the wages of all the workmen, who have not yet attained the age of superannuation [retirement] with benefit of continuity of service as per terms and conditions of service for the period from 01.01.2014 till 31.08.2018 as per the Award with the Executing Court within one month which shall be disbursed by the Executing Court to each workman individually.”
Justice Goel also ordered the HT management to reinstate workmen who were with the company from October 3, 2004, onwards. HT management has been asked to provide all the benefit of continuity of service, which the workmen were entitled to before their termination.
The HT management is going to file a review appeal against the High Court’s order. “The case is going for 14 years, there is nothing new in this case. This is the third round of litigation. We are going in appeal and are confident,” Dinesh Mittal, Group General Counsel & Company secretary, Hindustan Times told Newslaundry. He further added: “We are filing a review petition…the judge has not understood what we have argued, and he has assumed a lot of things in the judgement based on which he has passed such a judgement.”
Indeed this legal tussle is a long one. The 272 sacked employees were employed with the printing division of HTL. In 2002, promoters of HTL floated HT Media Ltd (HTML) and “the entire media business was transferred to the new company”. On October 3, 2004, these employees working with HTL were terminated under Section 25FFF of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. In a 2012 order, the Industrial Tribunal Delhi had held these terminations as “illegal and unjustified”. It had asked the management to reinstate 272 workmen treating them in “continuity of service.” Patiala House Court was made charge of the implementation of this order.
The employees were, then, reinstated between April 2013 and December 2013. Their services were again terminated on December 9, 2013, under Section 25 FFF of IDA. The HT management filed a petition against efforts being made by the executing court Patiala House Court. The Delhi High Court in its judgement states, “It is a case of long checkered and tumultuous history where the workmen have still not seen the light at the end of the tunnel despite the Tribunal having passed the award in their favour 6½ years ago.”
For years, sacked workers and petitioners like Ramesh Singh Negi and Akhileshwar Rai would coordinate with other sacked employees and meet right outside the HT House. Singh’s tent served as a base camp for these employees. Negi, 58, told Newslaundry, “I used to coordinate for the legal battle. We fixed a contribution of Rs 500. We would collect the funds as and when required.” He added, “Over 20 of our colleagues have died, a bunch of them are bedridden or handicapped by now. Several families are not in a financial state that they can make such a contribution.” Negi, who had joined HT in 1982, said roughly 70 such employees used to contribute to carrying forward the legal battle.
He seems hopeful about the execution court ensuring the implementation of the judgement. “The families were ruined. Many of us are under debt that we took for the marriage of our daughters, education of our children and at times to take care of the medical urgencies,” Negi said. He hopes that the disbursement of 56 months of salary would bring ease.
Bijay Kumar Singh stated that had he been employed, he would have retired from HT this August. The 60-year-old former employee, attached with the despatch department, said that while fighting the legal battle he exhausted all his savings, sold a small piece of land and jewellery that he owned and eventually had to take a loan to get his daughter married. “This isn’t the first time we have won a legal battle against them. It’s been over six years that the judgement [Tribunal order] came in our favour and yet we are waiting for justice, for the reinstatement, let alone the clearance of back wages.”
Indeed the High Court’s judgement is not the end of the legal battle between the sacked HT employees and the management. The appeal and review petition by HT will trigger yet another round of litigation.