PUCL Bulletin, Nov., 2000
A Delhi PUCL Report
Complaints made by Apollo Hospital Employees
Inquiry into complaints made by Apollo Hospital Employees Union affiliated to Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), conducted by Delhi PUCL (Dr. R M Pal, Chairperson, Dr. Mrs. Rama Devarbrata, member, Mr. Ohri, member).
According to the complainant (1) the Hospital authorities have violated labour laws; and have indulged in mal practices like fleecing patients. After a strike by workmen including nurses in September 1998, the management terminated the services of 161 workmen "illegally" claiming them to be trainees whose training period expired on the same day as that on which them strike started. The management also placed more than one hundred employees under suspension". The cases of all these employees are with industrial tribunals.
"Within a couple of days of the strike, the management obtained an ex-parte order from the Delhi High Court debarring the Union from staging any Dharna or demonstration within the three hundred meters of the boundary wall of the hospital". The complainant adds that "till date there has not been even a single instance wherein the Union has violated the stay order of the honorable Court".
The complainant states: "the management and the local police have appropriated this stay order to mean that union activists can not stand at the hospital gate or the bus stop across the road to even talk to the employees or distribute pamphlets and black badges to them or collect the unions subscription from them". For defying this order of the Hospital authorities, union activists and leaders have often been beaten up and manhandled by the goons of the management who are stationed at the hospital gate and also the bus stop right across the road in front of the Hospital. How true is our allegation regarding the beating up of union activists by the management goon is, can easily be verified at any time of the day by anyone. All that is required to be done is to simply stand at the Apollo hospital bus stop and witness the happening for himself".
The complainant states that he and other activists have lodged a number of complaints but no FIR has been lodged by he police nor any action has been taken by the local police in spite of pin pointing the culprits by name.
We visited the Apollo Hospital has stop at about 3.30 pm on 6th June 2000. We saw about half a dozen uniformed persons loitering at the bus stop. On enquiry we found out that they were security guards employed by the Hospital. We then met some Union activists. When they began to talk to us, we were surrounded by the security guards. We did not move from there. After a while a Constable came and ordered us to move out: "you are union men, you can not stand here". We were a bit taken aback. "Is Section 144 imposed here? Why can't we be at a bus stop?" (It may be mentioned that the Sarita Vihar police station is located across the road in front of the hospital). Under whose directive did he come to question us, we asked. He said the SHO had sent him to tell us that we were not allowed to visit the bus stop. (When we met the SHO later, he denied this but would not send for the Constable to question him). When we asked the Constable if he has obeying the orders of the Security guards, he felt uncomfortable and left the place. The Security guards, too, who were watching scene left and went to the hospital gate. One of them kept on sitting at the roadside water vendor's stool. Members of the Union told us that he (Shri Jitendra) is the son of a Sub Inspector of police, Shri Raj Singh posted at the Sarita Vihar Police Station; he was appointed just about the time when the conflict between the Union and the hospital authorities started.
We then proceeded to the hospital with a view to meeting the administrative staff concerned and getting the hospital version regarding the complaint. The same security guards who were at the bus stop stopped us. They did not allow us to proceed to the inquiry. The in charge of the security guards at the gate condescended to talk to us. He too would not allow us to go the inquiry/office. When we told him that we there to enquire into a complaint, he talked to some one on the phone and told us that none was free to see us in a week or ten days- all the concerned officials were on long leave, was the stock reply. When pressed, he mentioned two names; Mr. Kwatra and Mr. Rohit Kapoor.
Next day ((on 7 June) we met the SHO, Mr. Karam Chand (of Sarita Vihar Police Station). When we mentioned the purpose of our visit he tended to be a bit dismissive. We drew his attention to a large number of complaints by the Secretary of the Union as also by individual Union workers. He said that he would look into the file and that we should meet him a couple of days later.
A brief account of complaints (September 99 to May 2000) given below:
1. The Union has
been staging a peaceful Dharna at a distance of 300 meters from the hospital
gate. There has been no law and order problem. Yet the police have been threatening
and harassing union activists for distributing pamphlets or for talking to employees
or to collect union found. The police told the union that they have received
complaints from the Apollo management. This clearly establishes the nexus between
the police and the hospital management.
2. The management of Apollo has employed some musclemen (so called black cat commandos), apart from the private security, to the hospital 4/5 of them are regularly deployed at the bus stop to threaten and intimidate the employees coming towards the union's tent and other Union activists. They have been directed by the Chief Security Officer of Apollo to "break the legs of these union activists if they are to be seen at the bus stop. After all, what are we paying you for? All these with a view to crushing the legitimate union activists.
3. Activists beaten by security guards at Bus station. Some names have been mentioned.
4. There are a number of complaints of attacks on activists by security guards of Apollo.
5. Complaints made regarding Contractor ---- FIR not lodged by Police.
6. A number of applications requesting for registering FIR.
7. One FIR lodged.
8. Registration of FIR by police against Union activists.
We met the SHO again a couple of days later. He said that he had no time to look into the complaints and check with the SI concerned. He asked about 12 June or us to contact him on. We however insisted on knowing why action was not being taken into the complaints. We suggested if the police, after proper investigation, found the complaints without any substance, he could report so. He said that he could not say without going through the files again. When we pressed that he knows the background, he commented, "The hospital authorities are guided by retired military officers and they implement military laws; they don't bother about civil laws".
During this meeting, we raised the question on one SI.'s son being on the payroll of the hospital (as a security). The SHO said everyone has get right to employment anywhere one likes. Is it proper for the SI to be posted in the same police station, which was investigating into complaints in which his son was involved? The SHO was silent.
After persistent efforts we managed to get Mr. Kapoor of the Apollo on the telephone on 12 June. He said we should speak to Mr. Kwatra who would be available only after 16 June.
Couldn't we meet anyone else? No, he answered. We telephoned Mr. Kwatra on 16 June. We told him that Delhi People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) had received a complaint and we wanted to get the hospital authorities version. He had not heard of PUCL, since any number of human rights groups was "mushrooming", he was not in a position to say if he would meet us. Moreover, he was very busy, he said when we told him that he could check with the National Human Rights Commission about PUCL, he said we could telephone him after a week or so and then he could let us know if we could meet us, and when. We managed to get him on the4 phone on 28 June and said that we would like to meet him soon. Mr. Kwatra said that we could go to this office at 5.30 pm that day, but he wanted to us to telephone him at 2 pm to get his final conformation.
We met him at 5.30 pm. He has assisted by Mr. Rohit Kapoor. He started the discussion with a vitriolic attack on the naxalites (CPI-ML). "Dr. Pal, since you are a Bengali, you know how dangerous these naxalites are". He said! He said dr. Vikas, General Secretary of the Indian federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) is a naxalite and his business is to create troubles. He told us that the Union was registered; in 1998 1450 employees went in for individual settlement. The employees went on strike in spite of this settlement. He did not consider it necessary to go in for collective bargaining and decision - in fact he disapproved of collective bargaining.
Mr. Kwarta said
that IFTU activists indulged in extortion. When it was pointed out that activists
collected subscription for employees and that cannot be called extortion, Mr.
Kwarta was visibly upset, "you have come with a closed mind". We said
that we would like to meet any employee of the hospital from whom money was
extorted. Mr. Kwarta changed the topic. (Later when we asked the SHO he denied
any worker or Apollo employee ever made any complaint about extortion by union
Mr. Kwarta asserted that workers don't want any union; they are all happy; all the time they go about with smiling face. It they want union, would he allow them to have election? - "Under the circumstances that has to be my subjective satisfaction. We don't encourage election", he said. He added, "don't use the word election". "if workers want, management will be happy to have negotiation, but there is no need of any union and election".
We referred to the latest complaint of a union leader (an ex employee of the hospital), Mr. Surinder who was alleged to have been bashed and kicked by hospital security guards. Mr. Kwarta denied that there was any such incident. When we told him that Mr. Surinder was treated at the emergency of the AIIMS, Mr. Kwarta said that dr. Vikas, General Secretary of IFTU is a very influential man and he wielded influence at AIIMS to get Surinder admitted.
Mr. Kwarta said that the hospital had made a number of complaints to the police against IFTU activists, and that some cases have been registered against union members.
We met the SHO, Sarita Vihar the same evening. We reminded him about his promised to look into the complaints. He disarmed us by saying, "what is there to see! There is a serious conflict between the hospital authorities and the Union. The conflict should be resolved first". He repeated his earlier comment that retired military officers employed in the hospital take to military methods; they don't give any attention to civil laws. Under those circumstances, conflicts cannot be resolved, he said.
We referred to Mr. Surinder's complaint. The SHO said that he would take a decision regarding filing of FIR after he received the medical report from the AIIMS.
We asked the SHO about complaints made by the Hospital authorities against Union leaders and activists and what action he has taken in the complaints. He asked some cases were registered against union members and on a number of complaints no action was called for since the hospital authorities have not been able to produce any evidence in support of their complaints.
In the light of the above narrative we feel that the hospital authorities have no respect for labour laws; they do not intend to allow workers to conduct their Union activists as per law. They do not believe in collective bargaining. They are determined to deal with workers individually as they have done in the past, although the union was in existence.(2) Apollo hospital is a joint venture of Delhi Government and private individuals and so they must have respect for law; they should practice labour laws as applicable to such institutions and workers should be allowed to form Union which should be recognized by the hospital authorities. (3) It is established from the conduct of the security staff of the hospital and they are preventing Union activists in connivance with the police. The police have acted very promptly on the complaints of hospital authorities (even in the case, which has been registered, though evidences are on the file. The police (Sarita Vihar Police Station) should enquire into all complaints and proceed against guilty persons. It is most unfortunate that a sub inspector's son was employed as a security guard by the hospital authorities to keep vigilance and watch on union leaders and activists. This person is getting undue advantage from police authorities and workers are being harassed. The minimum that the police authorities should do is to transfer the sub inspector from Sarita Vihar police Station. In short, the police should not adopt double standards while implementing rule of law. (4) The role of the police in this regard raises many questions, which are required to be looked into urgently. We recommend that police role in this whole episode should be investigated by some better agencies and action may be taken against people involved in shielding such persons and cases should be registered on the complaints of the workers and guilty persons should be dealt with in accordance with law. The police needs to register cases against so called security staff of Apollo hospital for their illegal activities.
If the above steps are not taken, we are afraid there will be no peace in the hospital. The hospital authorities will not be able to restore permanent peace through arm methods. They should take to democratic and legal methods - adhere to rule of law. If they have any complaint against any union leader/ activists, they should proceed in accordance with the rule of law.
With regards to the complaint relating to labour laws and alleged non-adherence t5o these laws by the hospital authorities, we were able to speak to a couple of officials in the labour office. In a guarded language they said that there had been occasions when inspection teams from the department were prevented from performing their duties. There were occasions when the labour department officials made complaints to the hospital; the highest authorities in the hospital expressed their regret in writing. In short, the officials told us referring to the hospital executives, "they are difficult people".
During our meeting with Mr. Kwarta of Apollo when we referred to the complaint relating to the alleged non- adherence of labour law, Mr. Kwarta dismissed it summarily.
We feel that there must be an in depth investigation about this aspect. Such an enquiry will entail examination of documents, Correspondence between hospital authorities, and labour department, visit to labour department office, meeting hospital authorities and Union Leaders. We have decided to present a separate report on this aspect.
There is one aspect to which the Union has drawn our attention relates to Court Delhi High Court. The Union filed a contempt case in the Delhi High Court against the hospital authorities in that they had dismissed 35 workers in disregard of the Delhi High Court Order of 29 March 2000 granting a stay against dismissal of the services of these 35 workers in the laundry department. In this contempt case the Hon'ble High Court has been giving long dates. We feel, with all respect for the honorable High Court, it recognizes the fact that justice delayed is justice denied'. How can workers survive without jobs? The Union referred to another case of stay order granted by the Delhi High Court, dated 26 May 2000 against the termination of the services of 56 workers, which order too, the Union alleges, has been violated by the hospital authorities. On our asking as to why the Union has not approached the High Court, the Union leaders said they have lost all hope of getting justice from courts; furthermore, they added, they do nor have the resources to fight cases in courts, specially when long dates in hearing are given.
We have not gone into the larger question of the hospital administration. There have been complaints that the hospital authorities have flouted the conditions of providing free medical services to the poor. According to an agreement between the hospital and the Delhi Government, the hospitals is run on Government land and building lent to it by the Delhi Government on a nominal rent of Rs. 1/- per month. One of the conditions is that the hospital authorities have to provide free medical services to a certain number of poor people.
In view of serious complaints made by various people was suggest that the Government should appoint a retired of sitting judge of a High Court to go into a detailed investigation with a view to finding out the terms and conditions laid down in the agreement between the hospital and the Delhi Government, and whether these conditions are being adhered to in letter and spirit. The hospital authorities must announce, at least every three months, the number of poor patients they have treated, so that the member of the public can scrutinize the figures -
Dr. R M Pal, Vice - President, Delhi - PUCL; Mr. VK Ohri, Advocate; Dr. Ms. Roma Devabrato, Faculty member, Delhi University.
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