December 31, 2012
A Fact Finding Report by
JANHASTAKHEP: CAMPAIGN AGAINST FASCIST DESIGNS
Ashok Paper Mill, Darbhanga, Bihar
2. Historical Overview
3. The Salient Features of the Revival Scheme
4. The Events leading to the firing
5. The Spot Visit: APM, A Dilapidated Monument
6. The Narratives
6.1 The Workers
6.2 The Governmental Establishment
7. Mr. Godha’s impunity
8. Observations and Conclusions
9. Our Demands
In India, it is a well-known fact that the British colonizers used all the means including force and fraud to destroy the indigenous craft industries, particularly textile that rendered millions “free” from their means of labour. History does not repeat itself, only echoes. The disturbing echoes of colonial plunder in the present era of the Corporate led neo-liberalism, are very alarming. The existing industries, particularly the public sector enterprises, are being ruined in the most brutal way to facilitate the profit making by the greedy capitalists at the cost of the workers and the people. In some cases it has assumed the form of simple loot wherein a greedy capitalist simply devours the assets of a company and defrauds the public banks obviously in connivance with the bureaucrat mandarins of the Industry Ministry at the Centre and the state. The saga of the Ashok Paper Mill, Darbhanga, is a glaring example of such loot and plunder without even beginning of the process of production. The protagonists of this anti-people drama are not the colonial rulers but managers of the Indian state supervised by the ‘elected’ rulers, who are supposed to protect the interests of the people. The attempts to stop this resulted in a blood bath on November 10, 2012.
To stop the continued smuggling of the parts of the machines, as scraps, from the closed mill, “protected” by the Police station within the premises of the Mill, the employees and their kinsmen have formed vigilance teams. Sushil Shah (24 years old) was killed in the firing by the Bihar Police and private security guards of Mr Dharam Godha, the Director of the Mill. Two other people, Jay Kumar (18 years) and Dukhi Yadav (55 years) were injured. Jay sustained bullet injury near the temple while Dukhi was shot in the leg. No probe into the firing has been carried out as yet and according to the SSP, Garima Mallik, no one from the personnel of the 3 Police stations, present at the scene, has taken the responsibility of ordering of the firing or firing. We read in the newspaper, quoting the DGP of the state that Policemen can fire “in self-defence” without any order from a competent authority implying that the uniformed men have right to kill.
The Delhi based democratic rights organization, the Janhastakshep: A Campaign against the Fascist Designs, decided to send a fact-finding team to enquire into the incident. The fact-finding team that included Sachin Kabir (Filmmaker) and Ish Mishra (Associate Professor at Hindu College, Delhi University) was led by its Convenor Prof NK.Bhattacharya (Former Teacher, Delhi University). At Darbhanga, Subhash Chandra Singh, a reporter with the daily Hindustan, accompanied the team as a local contact and provided vital information about the recent happenings in and about the mill.
During its visit (November 23-25, 2012), the team had prolonged interactions with the activists of the workers agitation including the former MLA, Umadhar Singh (President, Ashok Paper Kamgar Union) and Shahnawaz Kaifee (President Ashok Paper Mill Majdoor Panchayat) and other leaders of these trade unions active there. The team also talked to few local journalists who had been covering this issue for many years and who briefed the team on the issue. The team visited the site to take the on the spot account of the state of affairs in the Mill compound that greeted us with the partly burnt truck loaded with rail tracks and copper and the signboards warning against trespassing with risk of prosecution under the now redundant Acts DIR and MISA, as also mentioned in one of the District Magistrate’s reports. There we met two of the managerial and technical executives, respectively who guided us to dilapidated mill with dismantled parts and machinery and dug-up electricity cables scattered around. We met few workers at the gate of the Mill and visited their villages to meet the eyewitnesses, the family members of the slain boy, the injured and the general people and their leaders. For the governmental explanation, the team met the District Magistrate (DM) and the Senior Superintendent (SSP) of Darbhanga.
From all these interactions the team could come to certain conclusions with regard to firing incident on 10.11.2012 and also the overall story of the plight of Ashok Paper Mill and its workers. It is a long story of the systematic undermining of the Rehabilitation Scheme approved by the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of India.
2. A historical Overview
In 1958 Maharaja of Darbhanga established Ashok Paper Mill on over 400 acres of land, a few kilometres from Darbhanga town, in the vicinity of the river Bagmati, acquired from the peasants of the neighbouring villages with the promises of jobs and prospects of the development of the area. It is to be noted that the Ashok Paper Mill was the only major industrial enterprise of north Bihar. In 1963 it went into liquidation and in 1970 was taken over by the government making it into a joint venture of Assam, Bihar and Central Government with the IDBI as a key financier. Owing to mismanagement and corruption, its performance started declining since 1978 and the production was suspended in 1982. While functioning, the Mill employed nearly 1200 workers, almost all local. Nevertheless Ashok Paper Mill always carried much prestige since its fine grade paper was of very high standard and was even exported. Assam Accord between the Central Govt. under Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership and the AASU, provided for the revival of Ashok Paper Mill. Central Govt. provided 67 crores to revive the Assam unit.
Ashok Paper Kamgar Union raised the issue of equal treatment to the two units of the Mill in Assam and Bihar and revival of both. Shri Umadhar Singh, then MLA in Bihar, sat on a 9 day hunger strike in Delhi where after in May 1987, the then Union Industry Minister J. Vengal Rao communicated in writing that the two units will be accorded same benefits. However the Union Govt. went back on its understanding. In 1990 the company’s mills were bifurcated. But due to callousness, apathy and lack of will on the part of the ruling politicians of all hues, the Bihar unit could not be revived despite continuous struggle by the workers of the Mill for its revival.
In 1988 the Bihar unit was referred to the BIFR. In BIFR on November 15, 1989 an agreement was reached that Bihar and Assam Govts. take over the respective units and Central Govt. will provide financial and technical assistance in running the Mill. In fact Supreme Court also on November 15, 1991 ordered that the agreement reached in BIFR should be implemented. However, the Central Govt. changed its policy and came to prescribe privatization as a panacea for industrial sickness. In the light of new stance of the Union Govt., in 1995 the Supreme Court ordered the Secretary Industry and Development to assess the possibility of the revival of APM, consistent with safeguarding the rights of workers. Later the Industry Department submitted its plan for revival through privatization consistent with safeguarding the rights of workers. IDBI was made the merchant banker and bids were made. In 1996 July the Supreme Court accepted a scheme for the revival of the Mill through privatization in two phases.
In 1997 the order was finalized and APM was privatized under an “agreement” to be run by Noveau Capital & Finance Limited owned by Mr. Dharm Godha for the sum of Rs. 6 crore for acquiring the shares of the Governments of Bihar and Assam to be paid in 16 interest free instalments. Our team found out that till 2012 only 2 instalments of the 6 crore due to the government were paid by Godha, no dues were paid to the workers while during the same period NC&FL raised more than 30 crore from public finance institutions without having invested any money into the Mill. Under the scheme the NC&FL would make the mill operational within 18 months of the signing of the agreement in the first phase. At the time of takeover of the Mill by Dharam Godha, it had 471 workers.
The 38 point scheme of the revival approved by the Supreme Court include the absorption of the total available work force of the mill and prohibition on the exit of any asset of the mill from the premises except the machinery parts for repair. In disdainful violation of the Supreme Court instructions in the scheme, the first phase could never take off in real sense. However, in November 1998, Mr Godha decided to have a trial run of the factory under the supervision of “Technical Consultant” and “Consultant Chartered Engineer”, Mr Ardhendu Shekhar Sarkar which opined that 95% of the plant and machinery was working well and only 5% required some minor repairs. This certification enabled Mr Godha to fake another certification that Ashok Paper Mills has started the production of paper and managed to secure loans from United Bank of India of Rs. 805 Lakhs as “working capital”.
It was clear from the very beginning that Godha was not interested in running the factory and he soon started taking out parts and machinery from the factory despite the workers union’s attempts to prevent the same. This theft continued under severe and continuous repression by the police posted in the Ashok Paper Mills Police Station. Mr Godha appealed to the workers to be allowed to remove and sell the crores worth of unsold paper lying inside the mill premises so that he could then pay the workers their dues. Using this fake pretext Mr Godha and his managers surreptitiously shipped out of the factory equipment and machinery worth crores. Ashok Paper Kamgar Union President Mr. Umadhar Singh had gone on hunger strike in 2000 against the violations of the Scheme and the then Union Minister Mr. Pramod Mahajan had promised in the Parliament that Home Ministry would enquire into it. Under pressure from the Ashok Paper Kamgar Union a Vigilance Inquiry was ordered by Bihar Govt. against him in 2003. Mr Dharm Godha declared a lock out on Nov 11 2003 and disappeared. The Begusarai labour court declared the lockout to be illegal and directed the full payment of wages to all the workers. Mr Godha disappeared from the scene to resurface again in 2011 soon after the NDA government’s returning to power in Bihar. Ever since Mr. Godha with his henchmen are continuing the plunder of the assets of the mill including 2500 tress in the premises; the rail tracks; one and half a kilometre drainage pipe joining Bagmati River; 650 HP motor; electricity cables and so on under one or the other pretext, notwithstanding the fact that there is a Police Station within the Mill compound. The workers are declared out of bound. Workers’ protracted resistance against this smuggling out of the assets culminated into the tragic killing of a young and bullet injuries to 2 others in the shoot out by the Police and the private armed guards of Mr Godha.
2(i). The important terms of the Supreme Court revival package of the 38 points scheme:
1.1. NCFL will acquire the shareholdings of Government of Bihar, Government of Assam and Financial institutions as per following terms:
(A) Write down of capital by 90%
(B) Payment of written down value within a period of 2 months from the date of handing over the possession of the unit.
1.2. NCFL will pay a fixed consideration of Rs. 6 crore and there upon take over the unit without any liability. This amount will be paid by NCFL in 16 quarterly instalments of 37.5 lakh, each on interest free basis. The first instalment will be paid by NCFL before taking over the unit. Except for payment of Rs. 6 crore over a period of four years, no other liabilities, be it dues of secured creditors, unsecured creditors, dues to Government and its agencies would be assigned to the unit.
1.4. The entire available work force will be absorbed by NCFL within a period of six months from the date of takeover of the unit. Prior to take over a tripartite agreement between workers’ union, Government of Bihar and NCFL will be entered into. NCFL will not take over the past liabilities in respect of the workers. However, there would be no break in service and wages would be paid as per the prescribed norms of the Industry on the date of absolution. Besides from the date of of the takeover NCFL will also pay to the workers (as are waiting to be absorbed) monthly salary @ 50% of their last earned salary of the month when production was terminated.
1.6. The Phase – I of the program would be geared towards repairs/renovation and balancing the existing facilities and restart of the unit with bought out pulp and clean waste paper for which a proper handling system of inferior grade waste paper would be set up as the unit does not possess waste paper pulping facility except for slushing if a high grade clean and ready pulp. The existing coal fired boilers and the oil fired boilers have become redundant and uneconomical and hence need to be replaced with a high pressure fuel efficient Fluidized Bed Combustion Boiler before the unit recommences commercial production. Further, NCFL would install a 3.5/four-capacity single extraction – cum-condensation turbine before the captive power plant of bigger capacity is set up under Phase – II.
1.7. The items of expenditure with the tentative cost as proposed by NCFL under Phase – I are as under: Total cost Rs.26.15 crore
1.8 The implementation of Phase – I wold be over a period of 18 months. IDBI would extend term loan (jointly or otherwise with participating institution) provided collateral security up to Rs. 10 crore is extended by NCFL and or any of their associated corporates or individuals in their private capacity. United Bank of India would extend working capital as per banking norms.
1.12 While the detailed cost of capital expenditure under Phase II would be worked out later by engaging a firm of reputed consultants, the tentative costs a indicated by NCFL as under:-
(Points 1 to 10) …Thus the total cost for setting up facilities in Phase – II is estimated at Rs. 478 crore…..
1.14 Government of Bihar will write off the dues of the unit including arrears of sales tax, water tax, cess, land, revenue, etc.
1.15 Government of Bihar will take necessary action for getting past dues of Bihar Electricity Board written off.
1.18 Government of Bihar would extend all incentives as per the industrial policy of 1995: Remission of sales tax, purchase tax and all other state level taxes for a period of 10 years. Ashok Paper Mill (Bihar Unit) would be considered as a new unit for all benefits.
1.23 Phase-I …and in phase II the Government of Bihar would recommend to the Government of India the setting up of a sugar mill by NCFL in the vicinity of APM, Bihar Unit. Government of India would consider the proposal. Government of Bihar will also identify necessary reserve sugarcanes area for the unit and allocate the same to the company.
1.33 The existing plant and machinery shall not be removed from the site so long as the entire revival package including Phase – II is implemented and operationalized. However, the NCFL will have the option to replace the same.
1.34 A committee representing Government of India, Government of Bihar, IDBI and Ashok Paper Kamgar Union would be set up for monitoring of the implementation of the above mentioned revival package.
1.36 The implementation of Phase – I would be completed within a period of 18 months from the date of signing of agreement and taking over the possession of the assets of M/s Ashok Paper Mills (Bihar Unit). Implementation of Phase – II should be taken up concurrently along with Phase – I and completed within a period of 3 years.
1.38 (1.37) on failure of NCFL to bring in the required investment in Phase- I and Phase – II within the stipulated time, the agreement concluded with NCFL would be liable to be cancelled and transferred assets would revert to M/s Ashok Paper Mills Ltd.
Under clauses 1.38 and 1.4 of the scheme, the rights and interests of the workers must be protected and all willing workers should be absorbed within 6 months and paid 50% of the wages until then.
2(ii) MONITORING COMMITTEE
As part of the rehabilitation of the mill, the Supreme Court had set up a monitoring committee which also included Shri Umadhar Singh who represented the Ashok Paper Kamgar Union, but after 1999, the monitoring committee stopped calling him for the meetings and Godha even filed a petition requesting the Supreme Court to remove him from the monitoring committee and that Godha be allowed to remove the machinery from APM. The moot point is how can a committee duly constituted by the Supreme Court itself which clearly states that the Ashok Kamgar Union headed by Mr. Umadhar Singh, be removed by the members of the monitoring committee itself? The right to appoint, nominate or remove any member from this committee can only be done by the Supreme Court itself. In 2010 SC dismissed Mr Godha’s petition under its own previous ruling in 2000 that “The workers union is the heart and soul of the rehabilitation scheme and without it the scheme is useless”.
There was a period of confusion between the 2 trade union active there. Mr. Godha had tried to divide the workers and for a brief time had been partially successful in this attempt by convincing a group of workers and the leaders of the “Ashok Paper Mills Mazdoor Panchayat” headed by Mr Shahnawaz Ahmed Kaifee of his good intentions. However, this divisive conspiracy lasted only briefly and soon the “Ashok Paper Mills Mazdoor Panchayat” realised Godha’s real intentions. It joined hands in the struggle with “Ashok Paper Mills Kamgar Union” and that unity remains even till today.
4. The Events leading to the firing
As mentioned above, on his resurfacing after absconding from the scene for 7 years in 2011 Mr Godha’s immediate act was to promptly start removing parts and machinery from the mill under the guise of “scrap” or “repairs”. According to the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, apart from parts and machines, Mr Godha felled over 2500 Sheesham trees in the Mill premises and smuggled them away. Sheesham wood is highly prized timber, at a rough cost of Rs. 1,300 per cubic foot and the total cost would be astronomical, running into many hundreds of crores This continuing theft was reported by the Kamgar Union and on 8th September 2012 the District Magistrate, Darbhanga, Shri Narmadeshwar Lal, who is himself an engineer, did a spot visit of the mill and took inventory of the machinery and equipment and appended the list of equipment which he found missing. The total value of the goods taken out of the Mill premises by Mr Godha, according to the spokespersons of the Kamagar Union, runs into many hundred crores. He has also mentioned in his report that Mr Godha felled over 2500 Sheesham tree in the Mill premises and smuggled them away.
According to information gathered by the team from various sources – Mill management; District and police officials; Trade Union leaders; workers; and journalists covering the issue — tension had been building in the mill area for the last two months between Mr Godha’s men, smuggling out Mill’s assets and the workers trying to stop this theft. Four duty magistrates were posted there. On the complaints of the trade unions, for the spot survey District Magistrate had made an assessment visit to the mill and found that the machineries have been dismantled and reduced to scrap. The villagers and workers had formed vigilance teams to stop the theft by Mr Godha.
On Nov 7 and 8 Mr. Godha had sent 5 trucks and his men under the excuse of wanting to transport paper lying within the factory premises and the police hatched a devious scheme to remove the workers from the spot so that Mr. Godha could continue his nefarious activities. The workers sensed some foul play and insisted on inspecting these trucks which were leaving the factory premises which was met with brute force by the police itself. On November 8, the Station House Officer APM Thana, came to the people who were keeping guard and said that since they do not have permission to inspect the trucks, he took 6 workers to the SDO’s office who was not there, then he took them to the DSP Lahariya Sarai. The DSP, Mr. Neeraj Kumar Singh threatened them and insisted that the material being taken out belonged to the company and they have a legal right to take it out. While these people were being illegally detained at the DSP’s office, the few workers left at the spot were unable to stop the trucks carrying extremely valuable sheesham trees and other equipments from the factory. While resisting they were attacked by the private guards and the police who forcibly cleared the way for the trucks to pass through.
On the 10th of November, when Godha, present there with Police and his own guards, was trying to take the trucks out, villagers insisted on checking the trucks and at the behest of Mr Godha the policemen and Godha’s armed guards fired without any warning in which Sushil Sah, son of late Baso Sah who was an employee of the Mill, was shot in the temple died and Jay Kumar (relative of an employee) and Dukhi Yadav survived the bullet injuries. According to the SSP, Garima Malik, on the evening of the 10 November 2011, she got a request from the APM Thana for more force, as some workers were agitated and gathered at the factory, so she sent an additional lathi party of 10 policemen from the neighbouring police station to assist at the Thana. Later she again got another request for more force and she notified the neighbouring police stations to rush to the factory and she put some policemen on standby at the police lines. According to her no Police Station had taken the responsibility of the firing. It is to be noted that the firing was not ordered by any competent authority nor by the magistrates deputed there. The Police fired on its own, “in self-defence”, according to the DGP Bihar as quoted in the newspapers.
5. The Spot Visit: APM, A Dilapidated Monument
On the 24th of November, the team along with two local journalists visited Ashok Paper Mills at a distance of about15 kilometres, south east of the Darbhanga town. As we have mentioned above, it is in an area of about 400 acres, amidst the farmlands and villages and on one side, about a kilometre and a half away, flows the Baghmati River, the source for water and for drainage of the waste from the factory.
At the entrance we were confronted with the sign board of “No thoroughfare under MISA”. Couple of yards away from the signboard, we saw a small earthen-mound underneath which lie the ashes of assassinated protester, Sushil Sah, where the villagers seek to erect a memorial to mark his martyrdom. On the single dusty road leading to the factory gate we saw a truck which was partially burnt and carrying iron rails and copper wiring. This is the truck which was allegedly burnt by the private security personnel of Mr Dharam Godha to implicate the workers and villagers opposing the illegal removal of materials from the factory premises. We were also shown some faint remains of blood stains on the road side which appears to have been the spot where Sushil was killed.
On reaching the factory’s main gate, about 500 yards from the burnt truck, we were confronted with yet another signboard claiming “Prohibited Area: Defence of India Rules 1971”. At the gate, we saw a notice claiming the seizure of the factory property posted by the EPF department, but strangely enough the gate padlocks were not sealed. No one was willing to provide any answers to this query as to what were they doing in the premises which have been sealed by a government order? If the seals have been wilfully broken, then it is a criminal offense.
The team met at the factory gate the two members of the management Mr. S.P. Sinha (Supervising Manager) and Mr. Sen (Consulting Engineer), who had also just arrived. After we interviewed them they offered to take us for a visit of the factory in their presence. Mr. Sinha called up Mr. Dharam Godha and informed him about the fact finding team’s visit. Mr. Dharam Godha also spoke on the phone to a member of our team at about 9:30 am and informed him that he was speaking from Greater Kailash, New Delhi and insisted that whatever happened on the fateful evening of 10.11.2012 was organized by the District Magistrate to malign him as he had refused to pay up Rs. 50 Lakh as “bribe”. He also exhorted our team to uncover the conspiracy being hatched by certain “anti-social” members of a “trade union” who are fomenting trouble for their own selfish gains and want the factory to remain shut.
On entering the gate, the factory looked like a dilapidated monument littered with some men – relaxing, playing cards, exercising. We were told by the management that they were Bihar Military Police (BMP) personnel posted there for security reasons. Apart from the burnt truck outside factory’s main gate, the team saw three trucks inside the boundary, covered with tarpaulins, obviously fully loaded, like the first one. It is these trucks which Mr Godha and his management claim that they had legal authority to load with “scrap” and “paper” and transport the same for sale. The team was able to procure a copy of this so called “authority” letter which allowed the removal of materials from within the factory premises. The “authority letter” is a letter written by Mr Godha on the 12th of November 2012, (whereas the incident happened on the 10th of November, 2012) addressed to the SHO Ashok Paper Mills Thana, stating that according to his meeting with the Hon. Commissioner he has been granted permission to take out “scrap” using three trucks. Other than the date, the letter arouses many suspicions. Where is the formal authority letter from the Commissioner? If the Commissioner has issued such an authority letter, under what authority has he done so? The Supreme Court Revival Scheme Clause 1.33 clearly states “The existing plant and machinery shall not be removed from the site so long as the entire revival package including Phase – II is implemented and operationalized. However, the NCFL will have the option to replace the same.”
On walking a hundred yards inside the factory gate, the team was greeted with mounds of waste paper and piles and jumbles of machinery. Many motors and heavy equipment had been purposely left exposed to the elements so that they could later be sold as “scrap”. Large quantities of high voltage cables costing as much as Rs. 5000 per foot had been cut into pieces which, the managers accompanying us told us that these were waiting to be sold as scrap as they had become old. Most of the motors and equipment had been cannibalized and their expensive copper and other metals removed and only the skeletal remains were there. Our team also entered the shop floor and saw that some drums of brown chart paper (120 gsm) were kept as if the paper had just been produced. According to both the managers this paper was recently produced during the so called “trial run” done on 9/11/12. However on closer inspection, our team observed dust and dirt on the sides and it was obvious that the paper rolls were very old and had cleverly been placed in a manner to show that production had started. On inspecting other parts of the plant, particularly the “wire” conveyor on which huge quantities of wet pulp travels before being compressed, vacuumed and turned into paper, our team noticed that the “wire” was spotlessly clean which clearly belied any suggestion that the mill had been recently used. We also observed large number of gas cutters which are used to cut metal.
The pulp vats (pipa) were also mostly empty and dry save a little bit of brown pulp which could have been put into them. Many huge drum rollers which cost up to a crore each were lying strewn in various parts of the factory. Much of the factory had been recently painted to give an impression as if it is all new and recently installed. However, since we had taken extensive photographs we were able to show them to the workers who had worked there and they confirmed that most of the expensive equipment had been removed, nothing new had been installed and some of the old equipment had only been given a new face look. Accompanying us were also two local news reporters, who confirmed our suspicions.
Our team photographed those areas where many equipment had been cut or pried out of their mooring, one important area was where a 600 HP main motor had been removed, a super calendar motor, coating machine motor, rewinding motor, three big vacuum pump motors, pulpier motor among many other such expensive and essential equipments. Many of our findings were corroborate by the DM’s report filed with the Secretary Industry – Government of Bihar.
The managers proudly showed us huge dumps of waste corrugated paper which was to be turned into pulp to be used to manufacture brown chart paper. The interesting point is that the managers claimed that this has been imported from the USA, while our photographs clearly show a carton with markings in Hindi! On being asked why are they so insistent on showing us the process of brown rough quality paper, whereas the essential aspect of APM was that it manufactured high quality high grade paper they had no convincing answer. What they wanted to hide was the fact that these brown paper rolls were part of the earlier batch of paper which was manufactured as far back as 1983 and that there was no ‘trial run’ and even as per facts admitted by Mr Godha that the previous boilers need to be replaced because they were unsafe and obsolete, yet the managers could not show the installation of any new boiler. If any trial run had taken place it would have been at grave danger to everyone present and in contravention to the Supreme Court revival plan as per 1.6.
6. The narratives
6.1 The Workers
The team visited Balha village, from where the majority of the workers were employed at APM. Workers from the other villages also gathered there. This is their version of events leading up to the firing.
As soon as we arrived a number of workers and villagers gathered and soon it turned into a serious discussion with more than a hundred people present. There was not a single voice to utter a good word about Mr Godha or the management. For the aging workers, the villagers and the youth, APM was of immense importance for their livelihood. Other than livelihood, for them APM produced quality paper. They spoke very highly of the machinery and equipment which was installed in APM and they also felt great pride in their own highly skilled work and their fine knowledge of the work process. For them, the manner in which the politicians, the administration and Dharam Godha had treated APM was outrageous. For many, they have been a witness to almost a brutal murder of a factory which gave them livelihood and pride. They held Dharam Godha in utter contempt and could not understand how a mere scrap dealer could hoodwink the Supreme Court under the guise of a professional manager and just rip apart and sell the factory under the very noses of those who were appointed to protect it. The workers alleged that other than countless truckloads of valuable equipment, Mr Godha had illegally cut more than 2500 Sheesham trees from within the factory area and smuggled them out. The workers saw that several times, many people would turn up at the factory dressed as managers, who were actually scrap dealers and they allege that a particular Mr P.P. Singh who claims to be a manager at APM is actually a scrap dealer from Modinagar and that he has masterminded smuggling out truckloads of extremely expensive machine parts from the factory.
Seeing this continual plunder of their factory, and well aware that the Supreme Court’s revival scheme places the workers at the very heart of it, the workers did much to prevent this daylight robbery. After years of repeated pleas and urges to the government falling on deaf ears, the workers had organized themselves into teams which would keep vigil to prevent Mr. Godha and his henchmen from this plunder. Over time the management and the police grew aware that the workers were keeping a sharp vigil so they started plotting devious ways to circumvent this. On Nov 7th and 8th Mr. Godha had sent 5 trucks and his men under the excuse of wanting to transport paper lying within the factory premises and the police hatched a devious scheme to remove the workers from the spot so that Mr Godha could continue his nefarious activities. They narrated the events of Nov. 7 & 8 (given above).
On the 10th of November a similar drama was enacted while the workers and their kinsmen – Ram Udar, Ram Kaliash, Ranjit, Kamlesh, Dr Raj Kumar Mahta, Mishri Sah, Jawahar Yadav, Dukhi Yadav, Sushil Shah, Kedar Yadav and others – were again keeping a watch on the trucks. There were four trucks inside the factory, allegedly loaded with paper. The workers once again insisted on the management, the police or the administration to produce legal authorization for taking out any materials from the factory premises, which was not produced. At around 6 pm the factory gate opened and a truck exited, but when the truck was stopped by the workers keeping a watch. They found it was loaded with the rail-tracks and the copper, for which there was no legal permit. The policemen and Mr. Godha who was present at the site, started threatening the workers to let the truck pass or they would kill them. The workers insisted that the factory does not belong to Mr Godha and they, as the workers, have full rights to be there and check if any parts or factory equipment are being smuggled out. When the workers refused to budge and insisted that the police and the workers inspect the trucks, the police and the personal armed guards of Mr Godha opened fire at the insistence of Mr Godha on the unarmed workers. In the ensuing panic one young man Mr Sushil Sah, who was married just a few months ago, was killed by a shot which went through his face and exited his head. It is to be noted that the late Baso Yadav, the father of the deceased, was an employee of the APM. Sushil was the only bread earner of the family through a tea stall, as his late father Mr Baso Yadav, like many others had not received any payment from the APM. Mr Jay Kumar Yadav, barely 18 years old had a narrow escape when a bullet grazed his temple. Mr Dukhi Yadav (55 years) was shot in the legs. Meanwhile many more workers and other villagers had gathered upon getting to know of the trucks being taken out. According to them, Mr Godha shouted at his Guards to set the truck on fire to implicate the agitators. The factory management and the private guards set fire to the first truck carrying the rails and copper which was not listed even in the so called “authority letter” that Mr Godha had himself submitted to the APM Thana requesting for permission to transport paper from inside the factory. A motor cycle of a passer-by also got burnt.
A perusal of the events leads us to trust the villagers’ testimony about the death of Sushil and the narrow escape of Jay Kumar that the police opened fire to kill. No warning shots were fired. The SSP told us that the Police were equipped with tear gas and rubber bullets. None were used to disperse the crowd and nor did any of the villagers attack the policemen. According to the workers, along with the guards of Godha and the policemen, the SHO also opened fire with his revolver. In the ensuing panic the police had caught hold of Sushil Sah and killed him in cold blood. We also met a local press reporter Mr Subash Singh, a correspondent with the Hindi daily Hindustan, who had reached the site of the incident at about 9 pm and when he and his photographer were taking pictures, they were threatened by the policemen at gun point to stop nosing around and leave. On seeing large amount of blood, he inquired if anyone had been hurt or killed in the firing. The policemen at that time had replied in negative. Later they said that a policeman was injured, but who exactly and where is the injured policeman, they were not willing to answer. He investigated and found out that the policemen had taken the body of Sushil Sah and dumped his body into a jeep and hidden it inside the factory. With the gates locked no one could enter and search for it. Later at around 11.30 pm Mr Sushil’s body was deposited at the government hospital and declared dead on arrival from bullet injury in the head. However the point is that there is an FIR naming Mr Sushil Sah as an accused in the so called mob that was threatening the police and compelling them to open fire, whereas at the hospital he was declared as “unknown body”. No policeman accompanied the body. A driver employed on daily wages by the APM SHO had taken the deceased to the hospital!! The police has filed an FIR against Mr Kamlesh Rai and 400-500 others!! Vide 166/12 dated 11.11.12 u/s 147/148/149/323/324/307/338/353/436/427/504 Such a large number of others is obviously to terrorize the workers and their kinsmen.
The team also visited the home of the Late Sushil Sah and met his young widow Bhagwati Devi, who is barely 19 years old and was married just about 5 months ago and also his mother and paid their condolences to them. It also came to our knowledge that no one from the government or the ruling party had visited the village or the family of the deceased so far.
6.2 The Government Establishment
For governmental reactions the team met the Senior Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate and also to know from them why the Government is unable to implement the Supreme Court Guidelines and stop Mr Godha from ruining the Mill and dismantling it for the sale of its machinery as scraps.
6.2 A. The Senior Superintendent of Police
On the 24.11.2012, the team visited the office of the SSP Garima Malik for the police version of the events. According to her, there was tension brewing and at numerous instances the police had been called by the workers themselves to stop trucks from taking materials out, a fact contested by the workers and villagers we met later, who insisted that there was not a single instance when the police had come to their aid despite more than 50 trucks having left the factory gates under the very nose of the Ashok Paper Mills (APM) Police Station, within the APM premises. According to her, special magistrates on duty had also been additionally posted at the factory premises with a lathi party of 10 policemen. The SSP tried to siphon off the blame that if some illegal activities had occurred in taking material out of the factory, it is not the police alone who are responsible for preventing or enabling such illegal incidents since the administration was also present there.
The SSP was not even aware that Mr Godha was allowed to take over the Mill by the Supreme Court conditionally under a rehabilitation scheme approved by the court itself. Neither was she aware that on 17-02-2012, Ashok Paper Mills had already been sealed and its properties attached by the EPF Department for non-deposit of workers Provident Fund into the government account. Neither was the SSP aware that there was a vigilance inquiry pending against Mr Godha.
As per her version, on the evening of the 10 November 2011, she got a request from the APM Thana for more force, that some workers were agitated and gathered at the factory, so she sent an additional lathi party of 10 policemen from the neighbouring police station to the APM Thana. Later she again got another request for more force and she notified the neighbouring police stations to rush to the factory and she put some policemen on standby at the police lines. According to her, the police teams were equipped with rubber bullets and tear gas. However, she had no answer for why tear gas or rubber bullets or other preventive means were not used by police to disperse the agitated workers. According to her there was no request for opening fire and she only got to know that there had been firing after the event had occurred. On being asked who opened fire and from which Thana, her answer was that none of the policemen or the Thana in-charges had so far admitted to opening fire! On being further questioned as to how difficult can it be to ascertain which policeman had officially received how many bullets and how many bullets have been returned by him when his arms were returned back to the police station, she replied that as of now she has no information and only after the weapon’s forensic report and an internal departmental inquiry, she will be able to provide answers.
SSP Garima Malik had no answer to the following questions:
I. Details and follow-up on the subsequent arrest of Mr Godha by the police for theft of material and equipment from APM.
II. Why did the police open fire when there was no worker or villager carrying any firearms or any other lethal weapons?
III. Why had the police consistently been in opposition to the workers and had taken every possible measure to prevent the workers from even assembling near the factory gates? Why did the police not assist the workers of APM in the very first instance itself when they were asking to prevent the trucks from illegally removing materials from the APM premises, which is clearly prohibited by the Supreme Court? Why did the police open fire on the workers who were only insisting that the police do its duty and follow norms as laid down by the Supreme Court?
IV. Where was the body of Mr Sushil Shah kept for the duration of 3 hours after the firing incident and till the time of its entry at the hospital?
V. Why was Godha detained by the police and taken to a hotel and kept there for two days “for his security” and then suddenly the police filed an FIR against him and arrested him?
VI. Why police has not acted on the FIR lodged by an uncle of the deceased wherein Godha among others has been named.
For almost all our questions the SSP had only one standard reply that their departmental and the District Magistrate inquiry will provide the answers.
It is pertinent to remember that same Ms. Garima Malik was SSP of Araria district of Bihar when police killed 3 persons in firing in Forbesgunj to help a capitalist occupy land of the peasants.
6.2 B. The District Magistrate
The team met Shri. Narmadeshwar Lal the District Magistrate. Shri Lal discussed the issue in detail with the team and did not shy away from answering any questions posed to him.
According to him, prima facie, there was no need to fire and even if there was a need to fire it should have been used as the last resort. The area where the incident took place is a vast open field and not an enclosed area, and the policemen could have defended themselves by other means. There was no prior tear gas, neither were rubber bullets used or any warning was given, before firing, that too in the head. Furthermore, according to him force used has to be proportionate to the threat. And he also told us that the magistrates deputed to be on duty did not order to open fire and he was unable to understand under what provocation did the police resort to firing since not a single policeman was injured, wounded, assaulted, nor was any of their vehicles attacked. The FIR lodged by the police was not counter signed by any magistrate on duty.
The DM assured us that he will conduct an inquiry at the earliest and no one guilty will be spared. According to Mr Lal, his investigations so far have revealed that Dharam Godha is a fraud of the highest level. He has personally conducted an onsite visit and inventory of APM on 8th September 2012 and listed the equipment which were missing and has forwarded his report to the Secretary Industry Department, Government of Bihar. His report has led to the stoppage of any further government loans which Mr Godha had applied for. According to him Mr Godha had submitted false documents claiming that the factory was functioning and producing paper for further loans. According to him Mr Godha was brazenly violating section 1.33 of the Supreme Court Scheme which prohibited the removal of any part of the plant or machinery.
He also informed us about the subsequent arrest of Mr Godha as per an FIR (GR no 4345/12, dated 10/11/2012) under sections 379/411/406/420/467/468/47 of the IPC filed by ADM Mr. Subash Chandra Singh. He also felt that the police should have insisted on remand for Mr Godha since there is an FIR (G.R. No 4359/12, dated 11/11/2012) filed against him under sections 302/435/379/120(B)/34 of the IPC.
7. Mr Godha’s impunity
Dharam Godha is an old hand at looting the assets of the Mills he takes over and also defrauding public sector banks and financial institutions. What he has done in Ashok Paper Mill, Darbhanga is not an isolated event. To cite a few. The same Mr. Godha had taken over Universal Paper Mill, Jhargram, West Bengal which was incorporated in 1972. In 1988-89, Mr. Dharam Godha came to control the company and within a year its net worth turned negative and a reference relating to the company was made to BIFR. In 1997, the company’s paper mill was devastated by a fire. The said fire was staged by Dharam Godha to claim the insurance money and to defraud the banks. The cases related to that Mill continued in different judicial fora for a number of years.
Mr. Dharam Godha had a company named Apollo Paper. In 1997-98, Mr. Dharma Godha secured land from Gujarat Govt. for setting up a paper plant. He imported junk machine from Canada and secured loans from the bank. He however did not take delivery of the machine and it rotted at Kandla port. Mr. Dharam Godha sold the land, and left the scene.
These cases delineate the modus operandi of Mr. Dharam Godha as he is putting into practice in Ashok Paper Mill. He is of course able to do so in connivance with the corrupt bureaucrats and ruling politicians.
8. Observations and Conclusions
After conclusion of our visit we were quite intrigued and disturbed by certain questions having serious implication not only for de-industrialization of Ashok Paper Mill that overtly – covertly serves the interests of the giant multinational paper corporates under the dominance of global imperialist capital, but also is indicative of a dangerous trend that has serious repercussions for Indian democracy and economy. Firstly why and how such a prestigious, public enterprise, in otherwise industrially backward state of Bihar was allowed to stagnate and become defunct. Why and how Supreme Court instructions could be violated with such impunity? Why and how the culprit, in this case Mr Dharam Godha, be allowed to not only breach all the terms and conditions of the agreement approved by the Supreme Court to make the mill functional within 18 months of the signing the agreement in 1997 despite having raised over 30 crores for it but also plundering the assets of the Mill despite clear instructions against it by the country’s highest court? What were the credentials of Mr Godha when his bid was accepted? We came to know that he holds expertise in taking over sick mills; raising loans from the public sector banks; dismantling the existing machinery and selling them as scrap; putting the factory on fire and managing compensation from the insurance company. This he has done in Bengal and Gujarat. How much has Godha actually spent? What is the balance sheet of NCFL? What other companies does Godha own and invest in? Why is the factory open when the EPF Department has seized the property? Despite being sealed by EPF department how are goods and materials being taken out of APM? What is being done by the Vigilance Department with regard to the inquiry initiated against Mr. Godha and what further legal action have been taken since he was absconding between 2004 and 2011? It forces us to conclude the connivance of the state machinery and the Police that is there to protect the mill but which is facilitating its plunder by Mr Godha. What was the interest of the Nitish government in bringing back a scamster and absconder such as Mr Godha?
During the last 16 years, since the Scheme for the rehabilitation was approved by the Supreme Court, out of the 471 employees at APM, about a hundred have already died and a hundred have retired in deprivation and starvation without getting any pay benefits despite clear instructions by the Supreme Court in this regard. Who is to be held responsible for their deaths and miseries? It seems that the government, instead of attending to the pressing problems of the workers is promoting the scamster in plundering the public assets and defrauding the country, going to the extent of shooting and killing the workers to sabotage their attempt to save the mill from plunder. Two pertinent questions are raised immediately: 1. Why were the police, the administration, the Industry departments of the state and central govt. and the politicians helping a capitalist like Godha in this loot and plunder? 2. How was such a systematic violation of the Supreme Court Revival Scheme for APM allowed with complete disregard to all laws and how the local, state and central agencies worked hand in glove to overturn this revival scheme?
The question which needs to be asked is, for a person who has complete disregard of the Factory Act, Labour laws, of Supreme Court orders and directions and shows utter contempt towards human life and law and order, what or who enables and encourages him to continue to do as he wishes and with full impunity? What were the compelling reasons for the Nitish government to allow him free access to roam around and do as he wills when there was a pending vigilance department inquiry against him? Why he was not declared a proclaimed offender and arrested immediately? What are the real concerns the Bihar government has towards industrialization and employment?
As per the records of NCFL: the total dues to the 179 workers comes to Rs. 2,49,20,632.00 and added to this are other facilities such as increment, promotion etc. during the period 18th August 1997 to 31st December 2002. Also added to this is the additional ten years since 2002. Dharam Godha has already received far more than this through public financial institutions and could have well paid all the dues to the workers. It could be concluded that Dharam Godha had no intention to run the APM and he was simply carrying on his previous well established con schemes he had enacted previously in West Bengal and Gujarat.
If we look at the intentions of those gathered at the fateful day on 10-11-2012 when the firing and death of Sushil Shah took place, the factory and all its properties had already been sealed by the Office of the Recovery Officer, Employees’ Provident Fund Organization, Muzaffarpur, Bihar on 17-02-2012 vide: SRO/MUZ/REC/BR-3256/1293 on not having deposited Rs. 1,73,76,615.00 with the EPF department. Through this notice, M/s Ashok Paper Mill was already prohibited from transferring or changing the property and taking any benefit from such transfer or change. It is clear that Mr Dharam Godha, as Director of APM was the illegally present and even the so called self-attested “authority letter” permitting trucks to take any material out of the factory is in clear violation of the seizure order and of point 1.33 of the Supreme Court revival scheme.
In going through the evidence and testimony of those who have been connected with APM and in studying the various orders from the court and other departments, it is quite evident that Mr Dharam Godha is no more than a con man, a possible murderer and a cheat of the highest order. So far as the intentions of the Bihar government are concerned, they appear to be completely suspect with regard to their intent for industrialization in Bihar and towards a cheat such as Mr Godha. It would be impossible to believe that Mr Godha carried out such nefarious activities for such a prolonged period without the tacit support of the powers that rule Bihar and mandarins of Industry Ministry in Delhi. APM only sheds light on one single instance which is actually a very clear reflection of the murkiness that resides in the manner in which repeatedly public funds and resources are siphoned off for private profiteering which has eventually led to the abysmal state of industry in Bihar. Mr Nitish Kumar must give clear answers regarding his interests in repeatedly allowing someone like Mr Godha to plunder one of Bihar’s most prestigious industrial units. Selection process of Promoter was given to one Public Sector Bank and out of two groups the Bank selected one group. It is claimed that the unit should have been auctioned to highest bidder and all the conditions of contract kept as part and parcel of bidding process.
From his nefarious operations in this case and his past records it is clear that Mr Dharm Godha’s only ambition is to loot the fixed asset of the mill and subsequently to sell it as a real estate. He never deposited the mandatory PF and ESI money collected from workers. It is surprising no action was taken against him. It is the workers who stood all these years as the eyes and ears of law and stopped loot of citizens’ property.
It is clear that Mr. Dharam Godha was aided in this con scheme by the officials of Industry Department of Centre and Bihar with indulgence of the ruling politicians. Further, these powers not only subverted the Scheme approved by the Supreme Court, but they also aided and abetted Mr. Dharam Godha in flouting the laws of the land with impunity, even proclaiming repealed DIR rules for APM. The whole truth of Mr. Godha’s criminal acts and connivance of the officials must come out.
It is also clear that firing on 10th November 2012 was clearly without any provocation and without any warning. The workers were unarmed and orders of firing were not given by the competent authority. It is obviously to help Mr. Godha in his nefarious design to unlawfully rob the property and assets of Ashok Paper Mill that the police and the private armed men of Mr. Godha fired upon the people. This firing shows total wanton disregard for human lives to serve illegal interests of a conman.
I. Cases of murder should be lodged against Mr. Dharam Godha, policemen and private security guards who fired upon the peaceful workers and their kinsmen on November 2012.
II. A Judicial Enquiry by a sitting Judge of Patna High Court should be held into the incident of firing without proper authority and role of different authorities in violations of different laws by Dharam Godha.
III. Though there cannot be any compensation for a young life, the slain worker being the lone bread winner of the family, we demand from Bihar government the payment of appropriate compensation to the family of the martyred worker. The injured also must be paid adequate compensations.
IV. Workers should be paid all dues as per the Scheme and all other benefits that would have accrued to them in this period. Decision of Begusarai Labour Court and EPF Dept. should be implemented.
V. A CBI enquiry should be ordered to probe the criminal conspiracy behind looting the property of Ashok Paper Mill by Dharam Godha and the connivance of the powers that be which defeated and undermined the very Scheme approved by the Supreme Court. Various aspects of this criminal conspiracy regarding removal of machines of Ashok Paper Mill and properties of the Mill against the express provision of the Scheme, tempering with Monitoring Committee appointed by the Supreme Court removing Shri Umadhar Singh from it to facilitate this nefarious design, fraudulent nature of various certificates for obtaining bank loans and encouragement to Dharam Godha to flout the laws, need proper investigation.
VI. As the Supreme Court approved Scheme (rehabilitation through privatization) has collapsed due to criminal designs of Mr. Dharam Godha and connivance of officials of the Central and State govts. Ashok Paper Mill should be taken over by Bihar state govt. and Central Govt. should provide financial and technical assistance. In brief, the agreement reached before the BIFR in 1989 should be implemented without loss of time.
VII. The Bihar Government must furnish explanations why it allowed the disdainful violations of Supreme Court approved scheme and an absconder like Mr Godha to defraud public property. It also owes an explanation to people as to why the Police fired to kill on the orders of Mr Godha without any instructions from a competent magistrate?
VIII. Governments of Bihar and India must ensure replacement of the stolen machineries and other assets by Mr Godha and punitive compensation for felling and selling the trees.
Dr. N. K. Bhattacharya
Dr. Ish Mishra