An ongoing tussle between the National Law University, Delhi and its housekeeping staff entered its seventy-first day on 14 March. The staff, along with the students of NLUD who have consistently supported their cause, have been protesting the summary dismissals of the workers by the university in December last year. NLUD terminated the workers’ employment after a new contractor, a company called Rajendra Management Group, was brought on board. The RMG chose to bring in its own workforce and refused to employ a majority of the original workers. However, the students and workers are now hopeful of a resolution after a meeting with the office of the Delhi labour minister, Gopal Rai, on 13 March.
That day, two student representatives and three workers met Anil Ghildiyal, an officer on special duty attached to Rai’s office. The university sent Siddharth Dahiya, the assistant registrar and SC Lather, the deputy registrar, to the meeting. After the meeting, Ghildiyal asked the university to renegotiate its contract with RMG so as to accommodate all the previous employees. According to a statement released by the National Law University Delhi Workers Students Solidarity—a loose coalition formed between the students and workers—Ghildiyal also said that if the original workers are not reinstated, the contract with RMG “would be cancelled and a new tender would be floated.”
Ghildiyal based his directions on a factual report submitted by NLU and the representations on the issue made by the students. The university’s report reiterated its original stand, that it has no legal obligation to the workers since they are employed by a third-party contractor. It also sidestepped allegations of irregularities in the new contract given to the RMG. The student’s rejoinder highlighted how the tender for housekeeping staff issued by the university was legally faulty as was the contract signed with RMG. When I reached out to Dahiya and Lather, right after the meeting, outside Rai’s office, both of them initially denied that any such meeting had even taken place. But when I pointed out to the students and workers there, they told me, “no comments” and walked off.
After the meeting, students and workers were visibly relieved. “I hope that the university can sort it out within themselves and that we get our jobs,” Geeta Devi, a 43-year-old housekeeping staff, told me. “We are very grateful that we have been heard and that our protest was not in vain,” she said.
“They closed the gate on us and refused to let us in,” Geeta recounted to me as she narrated the sequence of events beginning 27 December. “After we waited there for some time, the police came, and threatened to forcibly remove us.” That day, 55 contractual workers of the NLU were informed that their services had been terminated. The university administration and the contractor, a company called White Fox and Golden, gave them no prior notice. Instead, the university had hired RMG which brought in its own workers to the campus the very next day. By 31 December, the university started refusing entry to the old workers, who then began a protest outside the campus which went on till 11 February. According to the students, at present, 13 of the original workers have been reinstated. The students told me that they had to intervene to ensure these reinstatements were conducted as per procedure, while the rest of the workers still do not know if they have jobs.