A regime's whim and its victims

Print edition : August 12, 2005

Haryana's new Congress-led government is caught in a controversy over its decision to disband an industrial security force that the previous regime constituted, taking away the jobs of 3,500 people.

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in Rohtak

Ruchi Dudi and Namrata Sharma, who are among the HSISF personnel who lost their jobs. Ruchi is the general secretary of their association.-T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

MUKESH KUMARI of Haryana's Jind district was elated when she learnt that she had been selected as a trainee for the newly constituted Haryana State Industrial Security Force (HSISF). The selection, in October 2004, came as a beacon of hope for her low-income family. Less than a year later, in June 2005, she had jumped into a canal, taking her own life.

One of the first things that the newly elected Congress government in Haryana did was to repeal the Act under which the HSISF had been constituted, and as a result, 3,500 people lost their jobs. Mukesh and another girl decided to deal with the problem by jumping into a swollen canal in Karnal district. Both were pulled out of the water and admitted to hospital, but Mukesh did not survive.

On June 6, the day the Haryana Cabinet announced its new industrial policy, it also decided to repeal the HSISF Act, 2003, disbanding the Haryana State Industrial Security Force battalions with effect from June 29, 2005. The trainees, who had been given appointment letters, were told that their appointments stood "rescinded", that their services were hereby dispensed with and that they were "relieved of their duties". The government order (GO) dated July 2, 2005, also stated that the order shall not cast any stigma or aspersion on them and that they were free to appear for any future recruitment/selection for any government job according to their qualification and eligibility.

The decision to do away with the jobs of 3,500 people has been one of the most controversial moves of the Hooda government, which has completed more than 100 days in office. For a party that rode to power on the issue of rampant unemployment and closure of government departments, this decision seemed rather strange. Predictably, this has caused consternation not only among the electorate but also among political parties and representatives of employee organisations.

The controversial GO gives no reason for the repeal of the Act. It is said that the Hooda government wanted to "hit back" at the previous Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leadership, which, it thought, made these appointments for the sake of electoral gains. That the move made little impact on the fortunes of the INLD became clear both in last year's Lok Sabha elections and in the recent Assembly elections. There had also been allegations of "favouritism" in the recruitments. "The Hooda government is trying to do what the Om Prakash Chautala government did - it will recruit people close to the Congress regime," said a political analyst in the State.

Officially, the government says that "due procedure" was not followed in the formulation of the Act; that the Act was not notified; that the HSISF was supposed to create the posts of a Director-General of Police and an Additional DGP, which it did not do; and that budgetary provision had not been made.

The government then proceeded to suspend Mohinder Singh Malik, DGP (Rules), for his role in alleged irregularities in the "raising" of the HSISF. Simultaneously, it announced the formation of a commission to probe the recruitment. Senior Congress leader Shamsher Singh Surjewala demanded in the Assembly that the inquiry should be directed against not only government officials but also their political bosses who "manipulated" the recruitments from "behind the scenes".

Bhupinder Singh Hooda.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Another explanation that the government gave for the sacking of 3,500 people was that there was no demand for such recruitment from the industrial sector. The government held that it had written to the District Commissioners to inquire if there was any demand for such industrial security staff. It said that the force was disbanded after it was found that there was no one in industry or in commercial organisations interested in deploying the force on their premises.

But the Congress cannot wish away the fact that the Act was passed by a unanimous resolution of the Assembly in 2003. R.C. Jagga, general secretary of the Sarva Karmachari Sangh, the largest body representing State government employees, said that the government should reconsider its decision and that the HSISF staff could not be held responsible for a procedural flaw allegedly committed by the previous government. "They could have notified the Act, appointed the officials and provided the budget as well," he told Frontline in Rohtak, adding that the sacked employees had been made "scapegoats" by both the INLD and the Congress. The recruits, he pointed out, had been appointed because they had the qualifications required for the job. Of the 3,500 posts, including positions as constables and drivers, 576 were accounted for by women constables. Mukesh Kumari was one of them.

Ruchi Dudi was another. "How are we to blame for the so-called procedural lapses? Besides, there is no reason stated why we have ceased to be unemployed," she said. Ruchi and her colleagues were residents of the State Police Academy campus at Madhuban in Karnal district.

The admission procedure started in March 2004. In November the list of the new recruits was finalised and in December, they were given appointment letters, and formal training for the job commenced. They underwent an additional training for three months after the Hooda government took over.

"For the interview, they took our height, checked our medical condition and examined other requirements before making us eligible for the course. A chalan of Rs.500 was taken for the form and we were being paid a salary as well," Ruchi Dudi said. She added: "How can I forget the date on which we got the sacking order? June 5 was my birthday and two days later I heard about the decision through the newspapers."

When the recruits, who had been given appointment letters in December 2004 and who were drawing regular salaries, learnt about the repeal of the Act from newspaper reports on June 7, they took to the streets. Two women jumped into a nearby canal and were rescued just in time. Two others consumed sleeping pills and were saved because they were taken to hospital in time. For nearly four hours, the sacked constables blocked traffic on the main Grand Trunk Road. The police resorted to a lathi-charge to disperse them.

Ruchi and her colleague Namrata Sharma said that the day the news arrived, the entire campus was in turmoil and the girls were restive. Ruchi, general secretary of the fledgling union of the sacked employees, said that most of the recruits were from poor families with little or no steady means of income. There were widows, single mothers and young mothers who had left their children at home in the hope that they could supplement the family income, and some of them were pregnant, she said. "Even if people paid for the job, as it is being alleged, they did so out of sheer desperation."

Jagga, who supports the cause of the sacked constables, said it was intriguing that after the retrenchment the government decided to set up a committee headed by Finance Minister Chaudhary Virender Singh to review the recruitment. The employees were dismissed even before the committee could meet. Commenting on the general state of unemployment, he said that it was not surprising to find 150 to 200 young men in every village who were unemployed and single. "Nobody wants to get their daughter married to them," he said. Jagga recalled that 60 people had committed suicide after the Chautala government decided to sack 3,916 employees of the Minor Irrigation Tubewell Corporation. The SKS has decided to back the newly formed HSISF Karamchari Sangh led by Ruchi Dudi. The new union plans to meet each of the 90 legislators of the State.

Virender Singh told Frontline over the telephone from Chandigarh that the entire recruitment had been done by the previous government "keeping elections in mind". In response to a question regarding the unanimous passage of the legislation in the Assembly, he said that the Congress had hardly been allowed to participate in the proceedings. He said that under the previous government, decisions on legislative matters were taken on the last day of the session, which did not leave much scope for discussion. When reminded that some of the sacked staff had taken extreme measures, he said that the retrenched men and women would be given preference for future police recruitments, but he did not say when this would happen.

Notwithstanding the government's assurance, the sacked constables are not confident. Ruchi said that when a delegation went to meet the Chief Minister, pleaded helplessness and advised it to go to court.

Interestingly, the INLD, which is the main Opposition party despite its nominal presence in the Assembly, has given the same advice to the sacked recruits. Sushil Indora, Deputy Leader of the INLD Legislature Party, told Frontline that his party was "helpless" and that the "sufferers should go to court". Indora, a former MP, said that the INLD members raised objections to the government's decision to repeal the Act in the Assembly but the party was unable to organise a "mass protest". He thought that the victims should organise and "approach" his leader, Chautala, and ask for help. .

The State unit of the All-India Democratic Women's Association, the Sarva Karamchari Sangh and the State unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have resolved to press the demand for the reinstatement of the 3,500 employees. The INLD's former ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has also issued statements condemning the Hooda's government's decision.

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