Skip to main content

Rs 20 lakh crore package a jumla, Modi pushes for corporatisation, privatisation: NAPM

Counterview Desk
India’s premier civil rights network, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), in a strongly-worded critique of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 20-lakh crore package has said that it is nothing but a ‘jumla’ on the people of India, stating its “pro-corporate thrust” flies in the face of the atma-nirbharta (self-reliance) talk. 
Asking the Government of India must address the lockdown crisis “which has pushed millions into penury”, the critique, signed by senior social activists Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and Prafulla Samantara, among many others, has said that “urgent measures” are required for “food, transport, income, and work support”.

Text:

The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) condemns the absolutely insensitive, anti-poor and anti working-class approach of the Govt of India, reflected once again in the ‘mega economic package’ of Rs 20 lakh crore, announced by the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister in five days.
Despite all word-play around ‘atma-nirbharta’, the current regime has ‘abandoned’ millions of toiling masses, who are left to fend for themselves in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and horribly managed ‘lockdown’! Instead, the agenda of corporatization and privatization has been pushed forth, across multiple sectors in the garb of ‘relief’ and ‘development’!
The period since the sudden unplanned for national lockdown was imposed on the country, we have witnessed hitherto unknown levels of distress and displacement across the country. The pictures of migrant workers who have lost their livelihoods struggling to go back to their home towns – walking hundreds of kilometres in the scorching heat of the summer sun, with children, elderly and meagre belongings – are something that history will remember as a shameful period when lakhs of fellow human beings were allowed to face such indignities while the ‘powers-that-be’, watched on.
The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) that was announced in the first week of the lockdown was hugely inadequate and even as late as the beginning of May the food and cash transfers had not entirely reached a large proportion of the beneficiaries!
The continuing exodus of migrants from cities, the ever-expanding lines at feeding centres run by governments and civil society organisations and the never-ending distress calls being received by various helplines also exposed the severe inadequacy of these measures. While after allowing only road transport initially, some ‘Shramik Special’ trains were finally set into motion, one and half months of complete lockdown, so that migrants could return back.
However, this was also done in an utterly chaotic, non-transparent manner, where in many states people were expected to even pay for the tickets. There continues to be complete confusion over whose responsibility it is to ensure the safe passage of the workers – the home states or the destination states – with both trying to get away with least liability.
Apart from the migrant workers, there are reports also of loss of livelihoods and resulting food insecurity amongst various groups of people including farmers, informal sector workers, small and medium enterprises and so on. With the closure of all economic activity, supply and distribution chains all over have been disrupted.
It is clear that resumption of activity would require a major boost coming in the form of investments and fiscal expenditure by the central and state governments towards creating purchasing power. In simple terms, the government needs to put money in the hands of people!
In this situation of acute distress all over, the Prime Minister in his speech on May 12 announced what sounded like a grand vision for an ‘atmanirbhar India’ which included an economic package of around Rs 20 lakh crore or about 10% of GDP. Unfortunately, but predictably, as the details of this ‘package’ were revealed by the Finance Minister over 5 days of press conferences, it became clear that this is yet another jumla where the central government wants to get away with doing almost nothing while seeming to be doing something very big!
As has already been written in many media reports, the outgo of the government in the form of fiscal expenditure seems to be coming to about Rs 2 lakh crore. i.e. 10% of what was promised. Along with the fact that the economic package does not make the much needed expenditure that the economy currently requires in the face of the slowdown it faces, it is quite unacceptable that this crisis is being used an opportunity by the government to push for ‘reforms’ which further the neo-liberal agenda of favouring profits over wages.
The package therefore includes, for example, commercial mining in coal sector, corporatization of Ordinance Factory Board and removal of restrictions on Indian airspace. A whole host of privatisation and public-private partnerships (PPPs) have been announced in electricity distribution, social infrastructure and even allowing the private sector to use Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) facilities! When so many public sector enterprises are on ‘distress sale’ and path of privatization, ‘atma-nirbhar Bharat’ is but a cruel and indefensible hoax!
A look at the various measures announced shows that the government is deliberately oblivious and insensitive to the current crisis the country is facing as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown. While the package has a number of long-term measures and reforms, few of of them even desirable, there are hardly any responses to mitigate the hardships being faced by people currently.
The brazen neglect of the urgency of the situation is beyond comprehension and unacceptable. Digitisation in education and meagre allocations for health sector when we are faced with a health crisis show clearly that the package completely fails to respond to the current situation! 
The lockdown came at a time that was extremely crucial for agriculture. Harvest was disrupted in many places or in others where harvest was completed there were barriers in reaching the crops to the markets. Reports suggest that compared to last year, mandi activity this year is much lower and also that many have been forced to sell at lower prices, much less than even the costs incurred.
Reforms announced for deregulating agri-business will only benefit corporate houses and multinational corporations
Rather than announcing support to the farmers in the form of greater decentralised procurement of all crops, income support through cash transfers, higher minimum support prices (MSPs), support for inputs for the next cropping season and so on, as part of the economic package, the only announcements relate to extending coverage of credit.
While expansion of credit access for farmers is a laudable objective, this is not an adequate measure to respond to the current crisis. Losses borne by the farmers due to closure of agricultural activities also need to be compensated for, which has not happened in spite of the ‘crop insurance’ scheme.
According to an RBI report in 2019, only 40 per cent of India’s small and marginal farmers are covered by formal credit. Boosting concessional credit through kisan credit cards (KCC) can also be expected to have limited reach considering that according to Nabard’s NAFIS Survey 2016-17, only 10.5 per cent of agricultural households were found to have a valid KCC.
Further, the ‘reforms’ announced as part of the package towards deregulating agri-business will only benefit agribusiness corporate houses and multinational corporations and not the peasants and poor farmers. Despite the grand announcement that Rs 20,000 crore would be allocated for the fisheries sector through Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) from 2020-21 to 2024-25 to develop marine and inland fisheries, it must be stated that PMMSY is a capital-intensive, export-oriented scheme, not in favour of the large section of the landless and asset-less small-scale fish workers.
In the mictro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector. too, which was supposed to be a focus of the economic package, the attention is mainly only credit-expansion measures. While interest subvention for SHISHU Mudra loans is a positive step, it must be remembered that most of these loans were anyway not doing well and the borrowers were not in a position to repay.
On the 3 lakh crore loans to MSMEs, there is some confusion with regard to the new classification of these enterprises as well as what the terms of the loans will be. It appears that support to MSMEs even in the form of loans is to those units that have turnover of 1 crore or more! However, the basic point remains that these are all supply-side interventions many of which may even be desirable but they are just not adequate to address the crisis in hand.
In the current economic situation, where there has been such a massive onslaught on people’s purchasing power it is difficult to imagine how there will be any demand for new loans where producers are faced with declining market demand for their goods.
Cuts on the imports also may result in the boost to the large Indian corporates and not to the decentralised labour-intensive economic paradigm. Notwithstanding the shrill rhetoric of the PM on ‘gruhodyog’ and ‘gramodyog’, there is nothing much in the package for village co-operatives.
The moot point is that the economic package announced so far, completely misses the mark in responding to the present crisis situation. While it does include some desirable components, like for instance, building affordable housing complexes for migrant workers and urban poor, these are all long term schemes whose details are unavailable as of now.
What is there to address the immediate situation of hunger is the announcement that 8 crore migrant workers will be given free 5 kgs food grain and 1kg chana dal for two months. This too, is too little, too late. Notably, the dal announced under PMGKY, back in March did not reach many states and the people, till date! Estimates suggest that even to meet the requirements of coverage under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), an additional 10 crore beneficiaries need to be added (67% of 2020 population).
As a result of crisis now, one can only expect that an even larger number of people would be requiring food support. Further, given the exclusion errors in identification and the need to keep things simple in the current context, what would be required is a universalisation of PDS, where it is announced that any person who approaches a ration shop for grains is given food irrespective of whether they have a valid ration card or not.
This can be done on the basis of any identity card that the person has. Given that the FCI godowns still have over 65 million tonnes of food grains and procurement operations of the Rabi crop are ongoing, universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS) with higher quantity of grain is something that the government could have announced immediately.
Rather than providing the grain to state governments at market prices of Rs 21/22 per kg, the least that could be done is to make them available for free or at NFSA prices so that state governments are able to expand the PDS for everyone in need. Similarly, the other available infrastructure that could be used to expand coverage and support is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee ct (MGNREGA).
Providing work proactively in every panchayat, ensuring minimum wages and removing the limit on the number of days of work that a household can get would have been ways in which people could have been provided some relief immediately.
Along with this, the platform could also be used to make much needed cash transfers to people. Economists and activists have been recommending a cash transfer of at least Rs. 7,000 per household per month.
This should be made to all beneficiaries of old age, disability and widow pensions as well. Schemes such as the PDS, MGRENGA and cash transfers to poor, farmers and informal sector workers would be most effective in generating demand across the country which is much needed not only to address the distress situation that people are in but also to revive the economy.
While images from across the country of migrant workers walking hundreds of kms to reach home is heart-rending, the imminent distress that other lower-income and middle-income groups face is also going to be huge, what with an all-time low economic activity.
Centre for Monetary Indian Economy (CMIE) estimates indicate that about 1/4th of the working population i.e. 12 crore people, are already unemployed. This massive level of livelihood loss requires radical measures, none of which is available in the current package. Instead of addressing the grave issues faced by the working class, both the Centre and multiple states have used the cover of lockdown to further dilute protective labour laws and regulations.
In yet another recent low, at the behest of businesses, the Centre has withdrawn its previous order of March 29 on payment of wages to workers amidst lockdown, further jeopardizing their already precarious condition!
Unfortunately, ‘atma-nirbhar India’ does not mean government supporting people to become self-reliant, rather the government’s way of telling people that it has abandoned them in this moment of crisis and that they should somehow fend for themselves!
This is indeed a wake-up call for all people’s movements, trade unions, mass organizations and the people-at-large to organize against the skewed priorities of the current regime and assert what is rightfully theirs in our political economy.
---
Click here for signatories

Comments

TRENDING

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Modi govt 'implementing' IMF-envisaged corporate takeover of Indian agriculture

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* The surge of wealth of Indian billionaires and the Modi-led BJP government’s onslaught on poor, marginalised and farmers continue to grow simultaneously as masses face annihilating pandemic of coronavirus. There is 90 % rise of Indian billionaire’s wealth over last one decade. It is not accidental.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

A new fad in India, coding-for-toddlers culture needs to be 'nipped' in the bud

By Aditya Pandey* We are all aware of the dire consequences of subjecting young kids to intense academic pressure from an early age. In India, we have coaching institutes like FIITJEE and Resonance offering programmes for 6th standard kids to prepare them for “NTSE, IJSO, PRMO and other Olympiads”. The duration of these programmes is around 175 hours – hours that could've been spent playing games and making friends instead.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).