CEO’s murder sends negative signals to industry

September 23rd, 2008 - 10:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh), Sep 23 (IANS) The murder of the Indian CEO of an Italian company Monday in this fast growing industrial township has sent shock waves among businesses with many saying such incidents will send negative signals to overseas companies wanting to operate in India.Fear stalks the industrial corridors of the town, a day after the murder of L.K. Choudhary, heading the Indian subsidiary of auto components manufacturer Oerlikon-Graziano Transmissions India, whose administration likes to tout its advantage with the slogan: “Where the future is present and ultra modern infrastructure is ready and waiting for you.”

The website also talks about a “proactive administration” which is “so responsive and resourceful, that projects usually start way ahead of schedule.”

But businesses maintain that all this is nothing but hype.

The murder itself could have been avoided and Choudhary’s life could have been saved if the police had shown even an iota of proactivity and responsiveness.

Choudhary, 53, was lynched at around 12.30 p.m. when about 150 sacked workers barged into the factory demanding they be reinstated.

“I made at least 50 calls to the police but there was no help,” said Phool Singh, an assistant manager in the Italian company.

“When I failed to contact the superintendent of police, rural, on his number, I called Bisrakh police station but got no positive response. Finally, I called 100, the police control room, but shockingly they also did not pay proper attention,” he said.

The Station Officer (SO) of Bisrakh police station finally arrived at around 2.00 pm after more than one and a half hours after the incident and that too with just two constables, he said.

“The reserve police lines is barely 500 meters away from the factory, the security guards had to resort to firing in the air to disperse the mob but the lax police officers did not hear the shots,” said Narendra Singh Gangwar, another assistant manager lying on the adjacent bed.

“This place has a population of about 50,000 people with as many as four police stations in the area. But, hardly a day goes by without thefts, car jackings and robberies,” Aditya Ghildyal, president of the Association of Greater Noida Industries, told IANS.

“How can industrialists or their employees feel secure here?” he said of this industrial township, just east of the capital, that hosts scores of Indian and multinational companies like Escorts Yamaha, Pepsi, LG Electronics, Videocon, Moser Baer and Honda SIEL, to name a few.

Ghildyal said his association has sought an appointment to meet the cabinet secretary to apprise him of the factual situation.

“The incident indicates law and order failure at a larger level,” said a senior official of consumer electronic giant LG Electronics, requesting anonymity.

“How can we talk about creating dedicated industrial townships with world class infrastructure without being able to ensure basic safety of human life?” he said.

The police in the Noida and Greater Noida region have already grabbed headlines several times in the past for their failure to stop all kinds of heinous crimes including serial murders of children, kidnappings and most recently the murder of a teenage girl.

“This is by no means a regular labour conflict but is truly criminal action,” said Marcello Lamberto, chief executive of another Oerlikon Group company Oerlikon Segment Drive Systems located in the same area.

A group of former employees of Oerlikon Graziano India dismissed in June, 2008 for illegal action and other regular employees and who had stuck work, forcibly entered the Graziano plant Tuesday.

The group was supported by other individuals, who are outsiders and are not related to the company in any way.

The intruders attacked management and workshop staff, destroyed offices and forced regular employees at work to flee the factory.

Chaudhary was brutally killed through serious head injuries caused by these intruders.

Some 40 more employees of the company were injured and many are now admitted in the Kailash Hospital in Greater Noida.

Graziano has been a union free company since inception. In December 2007, however, trade union activities began in the plant with the help of external elements.

In June, 2008, using the flimsy excuse of an altercation with a bus contractor outside the plant, workers jumped over the boundary walls and ransacked and damaged company property.

After a lot of persuasion by the labour department representative of the state government and the police, the management was able to make the workers vacate the premises.

Soon after this incident, the Italian Ambassador wrote to the Chief Secretary of the state in June, 2008 informing him of the seriousness of the labour situation in the plant.

Following Monday’s incident, the Italian embassy said in a statement Tuesday that “the incident is all the more worrying as the Italian company Graziano Trasmissioni, after many successful years, had been facing for several months violent forms of protest by self-proclaimed workers’ representatives.”

“The situation had been repeatedly brought to the attention of the competent Indian authorities, both at the central and local level,” it said.

But no action was taken and the callousness of the administrative machinery finally culminated in the brutal murder.

On the complaint of factory manager Lalit Kumar Gupta after the murder Monday, the police at last registered criminal cases against 19 identified persons and 100 unidentified persons Tuesday.

“Out of 19 identified persons we have arrested 13 while 50 persons have been arrested under unidentified category,” said the public relations officer of Noida police Amardeep Singh Tuesday.

The incident has left other companies in the area seriously worried.

“If the chief executive of a company is not safe what about general workers and staff? The people here are everyday facing problems of law and order and poor infrastructure,” said a senior executive from software firm Birlasoft.

“There is a sense of fear and insecurity in all the industrial units who are operating in this region. We cannot expect any support from the police,” he added.

“At best, industrial bodies can only communicate their problems to the authorities. But, if a major multinational company’s CEO can be murdered with a hammer, at 12.30 in the afternoon, despite court orders for the police to keep the guilty at least 300 meters from the plant, what can you say?” asked Ghildyal.

Rahul (uses only one name), an executive with technology giant IBM, had taken a transfer from his Bangalore office to be near the national capital. He is now regretting his decision.

“Development is restricted to small pockets. There is no water, power supply is poor and theft and burglary are almost everyday affairs despite there being so many software companies and ancillary units here,” he said.

Industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) president Sajjan Jindal said that Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state in which Greater Noida falls, has already lost industrial glory and will increasingly find it difficult to attract investments unless it eradicates lawlessness.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), another industry lobby, said in a statement that such incidents are bound to sully India’s image amongst overseas investors at a time when India is making all-out efforts to make the business environment investment-friendly.

“The company is almost sealed and we don’t know what will be our future. I just want to leave this company,” said an employee of the Italian company that has over 300 employees in India.

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