Huge Gap Between Modi's Romance And The Reality On Ground
By Gyan Pathak
One can have a romantic view of something in which one visualizes everything wonderful in waiting. However, in reality things unfold differently. The centre has brought out several laws from its belly to reform the labour and the farm. These will solve the existing problems is a romantic view. The reality is that the recipes will make a deadly cocktail. We have examples of demonetization of November 2016 and lockdown of March 2020. Our romancing Prime Minister Narendra Modi had very romantic views about his decisions, but romanticizing could not help preventing disastrous consequences.
Peasants, farm workers, and labour from industry and business are now united against the six bills passed recently by the parliament of India - three relating to labour and three to agri-market. The Union Government is romanticizing the laws and claiming the enactment as historical. However, farmers' organizations and labour unions became so angry that they called for a Bharat Bandh on September 25. At least 10 central trade unions and 31 farmers' organization had supported the Bandh. It was unprecedented in Punjab and Haryana - the states considered as food bowl of India. The protest was also a historic move in number of protesting organizations and individuals, and also in women participation which is relatively a new phenomenon.
The three major bills passed in the parliament related to labour were - Industrial Relations Code Bill 2020; Social Security Code Bill, 2020; and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020.
The Industrial Relations Code, 2020, seeks to amalgamate the combine three major laws governing employee-employer relationship. The code consolidates three laws - Trade Unions Act, 1926, Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, and Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 into it and repeals them altogether. The code has changes many things in the laws that the labour movements in the country had earned after a great struggle against the capitalist forces. The very definition of industry has been changed to suit certain entities employing labour. The new definition now excluded several exemption made in the Industrial Disputes Act, such as institutions owned or managed by organizations wholly or substantially engaged in any charitable, social or philanthropic serves; sovereign functions; and also domestic services. Hospitals and dispensaries; educational, scientific, research or training institutions; khadi and village industries; activities run by an individual professional, or their group; co-operatives, clubs etc are also excluded.
The code incorporates provisions for 'fixed term employment' which is certainly adversely affect 'secured and quality job'. It would give disproportionate rights to the employers who can then easily fire a worker, or may not extend their jobs beyond the current period of employment. The code gives certain protection to the owners of an establishment and makes managers, heads, or the persons in authority responsible. Owners are known for getting illegal things through their employed persons, and therefore unduly favouring them will have consequences. The threshold workers-limit has been increased from 100 to 300 for compliance on rules on Standing Orders. It means, barring a few thousand establishment employing 300 workers, all establishments in this country will be free from certain obligations towards workers. It should also be noted that Standing Order rules cover - classification of workers; manner of informing workers about work hours, holidays, paydays, and wager rates; termination of employment; and grievance redressal mechanism for workers.
The Code on Social Security, 2020 consolidates nine different central laws - the Emplyees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; the Building and other Construction Workers Cess Act; the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; the Employees Exchange (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959; the Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981; the Unorganized Workers' Social Security Act, 2008; and Employees Compensation Act, 1923. All these acts are now repealed. The new code makes provisions for protection of welfare measures for even gig workers, platform workers, and unorganized workers. Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020 also provides certain provisions that are being highlighted by the government. However, with exemptions from implementing and loopholes, the new laws are likely to be manipulated against working class. The enactments will bring great distortion in the labour market.
As for the three agri-market reform enactments - the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 - almost everyone except a few are apprehensive about their direct adverse effect on farmers and consumers. All these acts give ample opportunity to the business class for manipulation. One of the Union Minister not only resigned from the Union Cabinet against these enactments, but her party Akali Dal has quit the NDA. The agitations began in Punjab and Haryana are now rapidly spreading in other parts of the country. The assurance of not abolishing the present system of procurement and MSP given by not less than the Prime Minister has been taken by the farmers as pinch of salt. Their agitation goes one.
Farmers are saying that the new provisions may make their dependence more on the unscrupulous elements and the private cartels who are traditional exploiters of the farmers. Corporatization of the agricultural sector is on the cards. It would debilitate the Indian farming community and the agricultural economy of the country. It's strange that Modi government has enacted these laws at a time when farmers needed more protection from the government. Even in present Agriculture Produce Market Committes (APMC) regime, 60 per cent of farmers were compelled to sell their products to private traders. Government should have made introspection as to why only 1.24 crore paddy farmers could avail MSP in 2019-20, and only 43.35 lakh wheat farmers were benefited in 2020-21. In place of strengthening the system, Modi government has exposed them to the private business and cartels. It is highly doubtful that farmers' incomes are going to substantially increase as it is claimed.
With the safety net for farmers is gone, the country will face a great problem of procurement by the government for feeding the people from fair price shops under public distribution system. It would weaken the country's fight against hunger and food security provided under an act will be jeopardized. Tampering the Essential Commodities act in favour of business and export is bound to increase the prices at consumers' end. Weakening of food security and inflationary pressure on the market has already been felt.
In brief, the enactments relating to working class, farmers, and farm labours are most likely to prove a deadly cocktail. (IPA Service)