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Rasikbhai Jivanbhai Mehta (1928-2003)

Rasikbhai Jivanbhai Mehta, or R.J. Mehta as he was more popularly known, was born in a Jain family in Palanpur, but chose a relatively unorthodox profession as his career, that of organizing and leading the labour unions.

 

In his early days Mr Mehta worked under the guidance of political leaders like Mr. Minoo Masani, Mr. Abed Ali Jafarbhai and Mr. G.G. Mehta. He joined the labour movement in 1945, working with well known Socialist leader Mr Ashok Mehta. He led his first major strike at Richardson Cruddas Ltd in 1947, even as he was appearing for his B.Com exams. Since then he successfully led many labour agitations and became a popular and victorious trade unionist. During Emergency, he spent nine months in jail under MISA.  

 

One of his landmark victories was the strike of the white-collar staff in the head office of Bombay Dyeing Mills which lasted for two and a half years and was ultimately won through the intervention of the Supreme Court.

 

Another landmark in his career was the strike of the workers of BCL Forgings in Nashik which continued for seven months after which the employers were compelled to reinstate nine dismissed employees who were members of the union committee. When the strike ended, the company did not have working capital to carry out day to day operations. To the pleasant surprise of the workers, Mr Mehta’s union gave a loan of Rs 30 lakhs to the company to resume normal working and in this way came to the rescue of both the employees and the employers.

 

Similarly, to sustain and to keep up the morale of the workers the union distributed a sum of Rs 1,10,000 to the workers during the 30 month long strike at Bush India Limited, rather than bow down to the employers and accept the defeat.

 

During his long career as a trade unionist, he was able to make settlements in about two thousand labour disputes. He was also always prepared to help get workers who were terminated or sacked abruptly, reinstated. Some of the well known cases in which he was successful in this were Premier Automobiles in 1958, Cable Corporation in 1978 and in Reliance in 1974.

 

Among the other innovative steps as a labour leader, Mr Mehta will be remembered for his success in getting the New India Industries to sell the workers the houses provided by the company at a rate well below the prevailing market rate; and his willingness to lend union funds to the employers so that he could carry out labour welfare activity with the interest.

 

Alongside his trade union activities, Mr Mehta’s union also runs two trusts – one for the benefit of the children of ex-servicemen and to help war widows, and the other known as the Free Trade Union Multipurpose Projects Trust, which has carried out developmental activities in many states across India.

 

There is virtually no other union which has adopted such a humane approach. These are a few examples of his vision and achievements.

 

To the credit of Mr Mehta, though he was not a Law graduate, he used to argue and fight cases in courts on behalf of his union, even contesting matters upto the Supreme Court. In this he often faced and argued with eminent jurists like A.K.Sen, Motilal Setalvad, C.K.Daftary, H.R.Gokhale, Venugopal, Pathak, Shanti Bhushan and others.

 

One other aspect of his personality was his fondness for nature, which led him to have a small terrace garden with over 100 varieties of rose plants in his office building in Nana Chowk in Mumbai, besides birds and dogs of different breeds.

 

Mr. Mehta passed away in 2003 in Mumbai.

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