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Direction to reinstate Safai Karamcharis legally unsustainable, report claiming police action at University's behest wrong: NLU Delhi admin

The NLU Delhi Administration has stated that it has no legal liability to provide perpetual employment to the Safai Karamcharis who were terminated last year.

Meera Emmanuel

The administration of National Law University, Delhi (NLU Delhi) has responded to the controversy over the reinstatement of safai karamcharis (house-keeping staff) terminated last December, asserting that it has no legal liability to provide perpetual employment to contractual workers.

A note has been issued on June 22 and signed by the University's Vice-Chancellor Prof Ranbir Singh in this regard.

The University states that it has got the Delhi Labour Minister's June 17 directive legally examined. The directive was to reinstate the earlier safai karamcharis and to cancel the new contract entered into by NLU Delhi for housekeeping services with RMG.

The conclusion drawn from this legal assessment is that these directions are not legally sustainable, the administration states. As such, the accompanying direction to carry out a fresh reassessment of manpower requirement to engage housekeeping services is also not binding, it is added.

To explain its position, the University details that the terminated safai karamcharis were employed before the Delhi government's 2012 guidelines for manpower assessment kicked in. It is stated that the safai karamcharis were then hired without any assessment and that they were "more than the actual requirement." The note states,

"... till the present Contractor was awarded the work of supply of Safai Karamcharis to the University, it continued with the same number of Safai Karamcharis, as it never wanted that any one should lose his/her job."

In line with the requirement put forth by State and Central auditing teams, the University had to float a fresh tender, and awarded the contract of providing services of safai karamcharis to RMG, Thus, the University points out that the manpower of the earlier contractor was withdrawn.

In this backdrop, it is reiterated that "the University never hire workers; it only hires services."

It is further stated that

"the University is under no legal liability to provide perpetual employment to the workers deployed by the company after the completion of the term of the contract. The workers have no enforceable rights vis-vis principal employer for continued retention and hence any direction to retain them after the termination of contract is without any legal basis."

The University goes on to assert that it has taken all possible humanitarian measures to persuade the present contractor to provide the earlier safai karamcharis with alternate employment and that RMG has agreed to the same. The note also states,

"Presently out of 36 workers, 14 workers were still retained by contractor who were working with the old contractor, and 22 are the workers of the present service provider. The present contractor in a meeting also clearly volunteered to provide employment to all the former workers at other establishments closer to the University. As such these 22 workers of the earlier service provider were offered to join with the present service provider, out of which only 8 workers have joined. Remaining are adamant to join only in case they are given the assurance that the University will absorb them permanently, whosoever the contractor may be in future (sic)."

Note issued by NLU Delhi administration

It is added that the cancellation of the University's contract with RMG would violate the law and "the University will not be able to sustain it in the court of law as a duly awarded contract cannot be cancelled arbitrarily."

Further, it is also stated that in line with the 2008 NLU Delhi Act, "any proposal having a policy question or financial implications will have to be approved by the University bodies i.e. Finance Committee/Executive Council/ Governing Council and no other source/authority."

The matter has been placed before the Chancellor as well, it is stated. Final directions on this issue would have to be taken only after it is examined by the University's governing bodies, it is added.

Detention of student by police

On a parting note, the administration has refuted that the recent detention of an NLU Delhi student at the University Gates was at its behest. The notes states,

"The widely reported account about police action at the behest of the University is absolutely wrong and misplaced. We in the spirit of empathy and equity have always been able to resolve our matters without requiring any external intervention."

[UPDATE] University cannot shrug responsibility at this stage: Students respond

Following the University's statement issued on June 22, the students of the NLU Delhi have issued a counter asserting that the "The University cannot shrug responsibility on the matter at this stage."

"The matter of reinstatement of Safai Karamcharis and cancellation of contract is not just between the contractor and the workers. The University, being a principal employer, has clear obligations under the law. The University Administration has been a part of the meetings with the Labour Ministry and has actively participated in the process, even in the absence of the contractor. Moreover, the Written Order is addressed to the University Registrar, NLUD and not the contractor", the students have said.

In their 5-page counter-statement, the students have contended in detail that the present contract between the University and RMG is illegal, that the University has obligations toward the safai karamchari workers and that the "offer of alternate employment (for the terminated safai karamcharis) is a mere façade."

"The over-emphasis on treating the University’s relationship with the workers as a mere service wrongly tries to dehumanize the issue", the statement adds.

"Besides the plethora of legal issues, we have mentioned, the struggle is, importantly, a judgment on the legitimacy of NLUD ‘family’. It is not illegitimate on part of the workers, owing to their longstanding association, to expect to be a part of NLUD family", it is stated.

55 house-keeping staff, engaged under a contract with White Fox and Golden, were terminated from service in December last year. NLU Delhi entered into a contract with Rajendra Management Group (RMG) to hire around 30 new workers instead.

Last week, Delhi's Labour Minister Gopal Rai directed the University to reinstate the safai karamcharis whose services were terminated.

The terminated workers and a student, wielding the the Labour Minister's order, had assembled at the University gate on Friday morning to meet with the administration.

As per a statement issued by the student-run NLUD Workers-Students Solidarity, the NLU Delhi student was detained by police on allegations that she had instigated workers who assembled outside the gate to protest.

The worker and the student were eventually released following the intervention of friends, lawyers and activists. However, the student statement adds that they were released "with a warning that they would be booked by way of an FIR under Section 188 and 144 if they were found in the vicinity of the University."

Following this development, the alumni of the University have issued a statement condemning the police's action and the administration's inaction in the matter.

Read the Press Note issued by the Administration:

UNIVERSITY'S STAND ON THE ISSUE OF HOUSKEEPING WORKERS - LEGAL ISSUES.pdf
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Read the Counter-Statement issued by the NLUD Workers-Students Solidarity

Statement on the Matter of NLU Delhi's Safai Karamcharis-NLUDWSS.pdf
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