Skip to main content

Workers 'forced' to give up basic rights. Why not ask corporates to shed profit for 3 yrs?

By Arundhati Dhuru, Sandeep Pandey*
All the narratives of a progressing nation, Rajiv Gandhi's 'marching into the 21st century,' Atal Behari Vajpayee's 'shining India,' APJ Abdul Kalam's 'providing urban amenities in rural areas,' Manmohan Singh's achievement of 8-9% Gross Domestic Product (DGP) growth rates and Narendra Modi's 'smart cities' have crumbled in the wake of national level migrant workers' crisis during the coronavirus lockdown.
Lakhs of them are marching, cycling or hitchhiking home thousands of kilometres away, a phenomenon not observed anywhere else in the world either because nowhere people migrate in such large numbers for jobs or foreign governments took care of their workers better than in India. It has been proved that a country desiring to be a global economic or military power doesn't have the wherewithal or the political will to take care of its poor.
When the poor needed the succour most, they were simply abandoned. In spite of the Constitution of India being guided by the concept of 'socialism' formally, this tragedy has also highlighted the discriminatory treatment by government on the basis of class, and by extension caste, as class and caste categories in India more or less overlap. While for children of moneyed class free transportation was arranged, the poor even if they managed to get onto a train or a bus were made to pay because of which in some cases they abandoned the idea of travel.
Opening up the sale of liquor on May 4, 2020, effectively made a mockery of lockdown when the police gave up attempts to prevent people from gathering like they were doing prior to this. The people who queued up in front of liquor shops were the poor, not the rich, similar to queues during demonetisation. Hence the government not only deliberately allowed assembly of poor but also took away from them precious little cash they had which could have been spent on buying food or health care for their families.
To add salt to injury now workers are being expected to give up their basic rights. A number of state governments have suspended various labour laws to varying degrees for different time periods. Uttar Pradesh has suspended all labour laws for three years and in Gujarat workers will be made to work for extra hours but not paid adequately for that.
May 1 started getting celebrated as labour rights day because it was on this day in 1890 that American workers resolved not to work for more than 8 hours a day. But Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and UP governments have shown scant regard for this hard won right and issued ordinances which may not stand the scrutiny of law even if they are passed by respective legislative assemblies.
When Uttar Pradesh Workers' Front approached the High Court with a Public Interest Litigation the government quietly withdrew the 8 May order of permitting 12 hours of work per day and 72 hours per week without additional payment for overtime, before the next hearing date.
The Prime Minister views all the discomfort borne by workers as a sacrifice for the nation. He has chosen the most exploited class of society for inflicting sacrifices which they are indeed making by losing their jobs and incomes, dying in accidents on roads or railway tracks while going back home or simply going through the excruciating experience of walking for thousands of kilometres with all belongings on their body without any guarantee of food or water, in some cases with women and children. 
Everybody working for a unit could be paid salaries good enough for survival. After all that is what we are expecting from the workers?
It is a matter of national shame that our workers are subjected to this humiliating rigmarole. If workers can make sacrifices why not others, especially the capitalist class, which anyway has surplus accumulated income. If workers are expected to give up the guarantees of working hours and minimum wages why don't we ask the industrialists to work not for profit for the next three years? All private companies could be converted to Trusts with Board of Trustees replacing Board of Directors and Managing Trustee replacing the owner.
Everybody working for the company could be paid their salaries good enough for survival. After all that is what we are expecting from the workers? This is the advice Mahatma Gandhi had for owners of big businesses. He suggested that owners of businesses must consider themselves only as trustees of all the assets controlled by them meant for common good of human society.
Hence everybody could get a salary according to their skill but it would be desirable to follow the principle laid down by the second most important political thinker of the country after Gandhi, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, that difference between the incomes of poorest and richest should not be more than ten times.
If this standard is adopted by all organisations and governments then it would be in the interest of larger society and as a country we'll be able to deal with the setback to economy due to lockdown in an effective manner. If the minimum wages under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is Rs 202 in UP then the maximum salary anybody should draw in government or private sector in UP should not exceed Rs. 2,020 per day or Rs 60,600 in a month.
Any profit above the total expenditure of companies should go in government treasury and government could waive income tax for this duration. If National Food Security Act (NSA) extends its coverage universally and education, health care, transport, communication systems and banks are all nationalised then there is no reason why any family should not be able to meet all its expenses within this amount. Free education and free heath care is a policy followed by many countries successfully.
Giving priority to public transport over private motorised vehicles is another such sound policy. If people with an inclination for service, as we witnessed a number of them during relief work, were to take up service sector positions and work on honorary basis or for minimum salary, the governance could really improve and corruption could be brought under check.
Hence by a wise selection of policy measures the cost of living can be brought down. In the coronovirus lockdown almost everybody was down to fulfilling only their basic needs giving up most of the comforts and facilities of modern living. What was forced upon us should become a subject of voluntary acceptance.
Unless such austerity measures are followed we may not be able to recover from the doldrums we're in.
---
*Arundhati Dhuru is with National Alliance of People's Movements; Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay award winning social activist, is with Socialist Party (India)

Comments

TRENDING

What's behind public sector banks showing huge profits in 2nd quarter of 2022-23?

By Thomas Franco*  The quarter two results of the public sector banks (PSBs) appear to be noteworthy compared to a few years ago. All these banks showed good profits in the financial year 2021-22. Twelve PSBs made a net profit of Rs 25,685 crore in quarter 2 of FY23 and a total of Rs 40,991 crore in the first half of 2023. The combined profit of 12 banks in March 2022 was Rs 66,539 crore which was 110% more than 2021 – Rs. 31,816 crore. The Asset Quality Review of 2015 saw a surge in NPAs of PSBs jumping to Rs 8.96 lakh crore in March 2018 from Rs 2.17 lakh crore in March 2014. This was simply because the norms for NPAs were changed from 180 days to 90 days, and all restructuring of even genuine accounts was done away with. In 2018 NPA of SBI was 5.73% which has come down to 0.8% in Q2 of FY23. The NPA of Canara Bank has come down to 2.19% from 7.48% in Mar 2018. The same trend is seen in all public banks. Now SBI has seen a jump of 74% in its net profit, while Canara Bank’s profit is

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Business back to normal? IIM-A survey says, sales expectations have sharply improved

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management’s Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES), which polls a panel of business leaders to find out their perception of slack in economy, including their inflation expectations, year-ahead cost expectations and the factors influencing price changes, such as profit and sales levels, etc., has said that the cost perceptions data indicates signs of moderation in price pressures. Carried out for September, the survey says, the cost pressure of the reporting firms has shifted from “very significant increase (over 6%) to moderate increase (3.1% to 6%).” It adds, “The percentage of firms perceiving over 10% cost increase y-o-y has declined. Over 21% of the firms in September 2022 round of the survey perceive that costs have increased very significantly (over 10%) – down from 26% recorded in August 2022.” Claiming to be a unique survey, in that it goes straight to businesses -- the price setters -- rather than to consumers or household

GoI's productivity linked incentives to corporates 'without independent analysis'

Counterview Desk  Wondering how prudent is the Government of India's (GoI's) Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, EAS Sarma, former secretary, GoI, in a representation to Nirmala Sitharaman, Union finance minister, has said it appears to be nothing more than subsidy to the private sector without any responsibility. Giving a specific example against the backdrop of announcement of 50% subsidy covering the project cost of the Vedanta Group's decision to set up a semiconductor fabrication plant in Gujarat, in collaboration with Foxconn, Sarma says, "The total cost of this project is reported to be Rs 1,54,000 crore. 50% of this works out to Rs 77,000 crore." Stating that this creates the impression that the entire subsidy allocation for the semiconductor manufacturing sector would be appropriated by this company, Sarma says, "The Gujarat government did not lag behind in liberally announcing similar incentives for the Vedanta-Foxconn project. It offered 7

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Diminishing returns: Hydro projects contribute less than 10% of India's power generation

Counterview Desk  Pointing out that India’s hydro generation remains around 10% for the last six years, the advocacy group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has said that power generation from hydropower projects continues to show diminishing returns, as has been the story close to three decades now. Yet, says SANDRP in a note, the Government of India continues to push large hydro by announcing a slew of additional subsidies for hydropower projects, more for political economy reason. In fact, attempts are being made to flog unviable hydropower projects with various kind of manipulations, illegalities and violations, it adds. Text : In last six years, from 2016-17 to 2021-22, India’s large hydropower projects (projects above 25 MW installed capacity) have contributed just around 10% of the total power generation, going as low as 9.68% in 2017-18. In fact, in three of these six years, large hydro contributed less than 10% and recovering only marginally in the rest,

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.