One death, 99 arrested in India’s Maruti Suzuki factory clashes [Photo Gallery] image

Top Indian automaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL) has suspended production at a plant near New Delhi after workers attacked managers, leaving one person dead and more than 70 injured.

An unidentified person’s body was charred to death, at least 70 managers at Maruti Suzuki’s factory in Manesar were injured and 99 workers were arrested, K.K. Sindhu, police commissioner for the Gurgaon district, said today.

Both Maruti and the union blamed each other for the incident.

According to Maruti, the unrest was sparked when a worker beat up a supervisor Wednesday morning. The company said the union prevented management from disciplining the worker, blocked exit gates and “held the executives hostage.”

“Sir we were caught unawares. Suddenly, a lot of people came running and held me and started beating me. They beat me with rods, machine components, or whatever they could lay their hands on. They were beating me like one would beat animals.
We ran and somehow saved our lives. We managed to jump the wall and reached the hospital,” SA Siddiqui, the supervisor, told NDTV.

The workers though had a different story to tell. They allege that the supervisor made a “casteist” remark against a Dalit worker. “When we opposed it, they misbehaved with us and suspended the worker,” said Sarabjeet Singh, General Secretary of the Maruit Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU).

Spokesman Puneep Dhawan said Thursday the plant stopped production Wednesday night because of fire damage caused by rioting workers.

“The plant is burnt in sections. You cannot make any cars,” he said.

The Manesar factory will remain closed on Thursday, Reuters reported.

“The Manesar plant is a very important unit from the company’s strategy point of view as it produces mostly diesel cars which are in high demand after petrol variants lost their sheen owning to steep price hikes. The Manesar plant produces 5,50,000 in a year,” A.K. Prabhakar, Senior Vice President – Equity Research at Anand Rathi said.

Intermittent strikes at Maruti highlight the fragile relations between the company’s management and the workers, which have in the past caused substantial problems to the New Delhi-based auto maker.

The latest agitation by the workers follow a string of protests that hit the Manesar plant for most of 2011, including one that ended in October.

Shares in Maruti were down 7.4 percent at 0545 GMT on a Mumbai market up 0.5 percent.