Grim details emerge of Indian car plant violence

A manager at top carmaker Maruti burned to death in India's worst industrial violence in recent memory because he was unable to flee after rioters broke his legs, police said Friday.

The grim account emerged as output at Japanese-owned Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant near New Delhi remained halted following Wednesday's riot in which nearly 100 executives were hurt when workers chased them with bars and torched offices.

The body of the plant's human resources manager, Awanish Kumar Dev, found charred beyond recognition in a burned-out conference room, was identified by a tooth implant, police said as they issued fresh details about the violence.

"He had no chance of escape, his attackers broke his legs so he was trapped inside," deputy police commissioner Maheshwar Dayal told AFP.

The personnel manager had been huddled with union officials to discuss disciplinary matters when he was attacked, Dayal said.

Police were searching for a dozen Maruti union leaders in connection with the riots, Dayal said, adding 91 workers at the plant -- which has some 3,000 employees -- had already been arrested on accusations ranging from attempted murder to rioting.

A senior Maruti executive who did not wish to be identified told AFP it was not known when the factory, which makes 550,000 vehicles a year -- accounting for a third of Maruti's output -- would reopen.

"We have 100 people injured... They are in trauma," he said. "Who's going to run the plant? We have not assessed when it will reopen."

Maruti said in a statement late Friday that some managers had been released from hospital but that 33 others remained there and were "undergoing treatment for critical injuries received during the violence at the plant".

Earlier the company had said 50 managers had been hospitalised.

A protracted closure would be a blow for Maruti, whose profits slid 29 percent last year on the back of labour disputes over pay and union recognition that cost more than $500 million in lost production.

Investors have wiped hundreds of millions of dollars off the value of shares of Maruti and its parent company, Suzuki Motor, since the riot, spooked by fears of a lengthy shutdown.

Japan's government has condemned the "violence and vandalism" at Maruti, and urged Indian police to "effectively enforce law and order so that such (incidents) would not be repeated".

Labour discontent has been mounting in India, especially in the auto sector, with inflation pinching pay packets and rampant use of cheaper contract workers fuelling unhappiness on shop-floors.

But the rioting suggests "a pressure-cooker situation in which discontent last year over pay and working conditions was a long way from being settled", said Deepesh Rathore, chief analyst at consultancy IHS Automotive India.

"Part of the problem may also be that Japanese working standards are quite disciplined... there is a lot of pressure on the worker," he said.

The union said the trigger for the violence was a supervisor who insulted a worker over his low-caste status, but Dayal rejected this, saying both workers "belonged to the same low caste".

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was due to travel to Tokyo on Sunday where he was expected to meet executives of Suzuki Motor and suggest Maruti expand its planned new operations in his business-friendly coastal state.

"Maruti will have to bring Manesar back to life, it's an important plant, but it may speed up its investment in Gujarat where law-and-order is much better and it has less chance of trade union problems,' said Rathore.

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), a leading industry lobby, said the violence could further sour India's investment climate, already tarnished by stalled economic reforms and a string of corruption scandals.

"Such acts of violence sully the image of India as a manufacturing base," said SIAM chief S. Sandilya.

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