Three SPYF members detained 'a kilometre away' from Alkem protest site
Three arrested SPYF members: (Left to Right) Lekhak Sharma, Rupen Karki and Praveen Basnett

GANGTOK: Three members of Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum were detained by Sikkim Police for their alleged involvement in a protest called by labourers of Alkem Pharmaceutical Company from Samardung under Namchi District on Tuesday. The protest was to demand a hike in minimum wages, which was promised by the ruling-SKM government in its 2019 manifesto.

Members Rupen Karki, Lekhak Sharma and Praveen Basnett were detained from about ‘a kilometre away’ from the protest while they were returning around 6 pm. The SPYF claimed the members were in attendance at the protest, following an invitation by the protesting labourers.

Following the detainment, SPYF members in Gangtok said, “The members were detained without any reason, arbitrarily, about a kilometre away from the pharmaceutical company when they were returning from the protest site at about 6 pm.” According to sources, the three detained members of the SPYF were released from police detention at about 11 am on Wednesday.

The youth forum, however, questioned why their members were not detained at the protest site rather than being detained later, when they were alone, about a kilometre away.

“Such incidents of arbitrarily arresting and detaining people are happening only in Sikkim. As per law, any person being detained is given prior information and notice,” SPYF member Pravin Upreti said.

SPYF members addressing a press conference on Tuesday

On allegations of instigating the protest, SPYF clarified, “We have not instigated any protest to happen, and the invite to us to attend the protest came after the protest had already happened. There was no argument between the members and the Sikkim Police at the site of protest. We had made no statement at the protest site. We feel to demand Rs 15,000 for the labourers is right, not instigation.”

Speaking with EastMojo, Sikkim Police DIG Tashi Wangyal Bhutia informed the three individuals and not organization members were detained and not arrested.

Bhutia said the three individuals were not arrested but detained under CrPC 151 – knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse.

“If the police have credible information that they are likely to create non-cognizable offence, we can hold them for the night or 24 hours, to prevent them from committing an offence or crime. They are being detained at Namchi Police Station. Police had information that they were instigating the labourers. They will be produced before the magistrate tomorrow. None of the Alkem labourers were detained or arrested, but for now, three individuals have been detained,” Bhutia said on Tuesday night.

Superintendent of Police Namchi District Manish Verma informed, “We have not detained any member from any organization or with the organization name. We have detained three individuals seeing the consequences and probable outcome that was anticipated. They were detained as per legal provision on grounds of prevention of commission of cognizable offence. Based on the situation, circumstances, and information by various sources, Police is empowered to take a preventive step and hence they were detained as per CrPC 151. We have not filed a case against the individuals.”

However, Sikkim Police refused to clarify the location of detainment. As claimed by SPYF, they were detained a kilometre away from the protest site.

During the press address, SPYF members further stated, “Sikkim Police is working as a party worker of ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha party. This is not the first incidence of arresting citizens without prior notice either during the day or in the night. To arrest or detain without reason is a violation of the Indian Constitution, as any person without any arms and ammunition can walk around freely. But Sikkim Police has ignored that Constitutional right to arrest SPYF members. This is a clear exhibition of Sikkim Police working at the behest of the Government and the ruling party. Sikkim Police is biased, so they need stop exhibiting themselves as unbiased. Detaining or arresting common citizens is exemplary of their biased character.”

On the reason for their members joining the protest through invitation, SPYF members stated, “The protest at Alkem Pharma was in demand for hike of minimum wage as was guaranteed by the State government. On May 1, SPYF and labourers from across the state held a meeting to discuss on the hike to be carried out as soon as possible. The hike was promised by the SKM party in their election manifesto prior to the 2019 elections. They had promised Rs. 21,000 wages per month, but they forgot about the said promise.”

SPYF had submitted a memorandum in collaboration with various labour organizations to the Sikkim Labour Department. Seeing the gathering on May 1, the government had declared to hike the wages to Rs. 15,000 per month. About a month later, the government released a notification, which said the Sikkim labour department would welcome suggestions and criticism for two months based on which the government would decide on the hike

SPYF further added, “The two months period has come to pass with no hike on minimum wage yet. On September 11, Labour department held a press conference clarifying the delay and asked for more time to present the final report to the Sikkim government, only after which the hike would be assured. The government is trying to quell the voice of the labourers and various organizations raising the demand.”

SPYF countered that arresting three members would not quell the voice of the labourers. “Today, the protest at Alkem was a spark, but tomorrow when 40-50 pharma companies, hydel project workers and many PWD employees join the protest with the demand for hike, it may spread like wildfire. The wildfire will not save the government and will burn the dictator character in the SKM government.”

SPYF claimed that the labourers are getting a meagre Rs. 7000 salary, which “is not sufficient for sustenance and to live a dignified life”.

“SPYF was not there for personal gains, we were there to genuinely support the demand for minimum wage of the labourers. We urge and are hopeful that other labourers will also come forward to raise their demand from tomorrow. We demand immediate release of our members. If the Sikkim Police has arrested or detained without any reason, Sikkim Police, SKM Party and Sikkim Government will have to face the consequences. It’s an arrest of people who voice people’s concern.”

According to sources, the three detained members of the SPYF were released from police detention at about 11 am on Wednesday.

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