Winds of Change?

Modi Sarkar and the Rights of the People

Subhendu Dasgupta

The present Central Gov ernment, propagated as the 'Modi Sarkar' has published the Economic Survey, presented the Budget, announced some policies and declared a few proposals on the Economic front within a very short spell of its rule. All these will have far reaching impacts on the life of the common people of the country.

For this essay the writer will take only one issue. The probable impact on the Rights of the People.

Example One: Right to work. Name of the governmental project Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. About this project the Economic Survey has proposed the 'Zero Budgeting Approach'. Every year the expenditure on the project, the work done, the demand for the project and the overall result will be examined. The very attitude of examining a social security scheme on the basis of mathematical calculations actually means the denial of Rights. A civil right. Right to Work. Seeing a Right from the perspective of an allotment in the budget signifies displacement of the basic concept of Rights.

Example Two: Right to Food. Right to food in the terms of governmental scheme is to provide fixed amount of selected food crops, in determined prices, to selected categories of people, at determined intervals by the governmental agencies. Now it has been proposed that this scheme has to be abolished. In place of providing food crops, a fixed amount of money will be handed over. Or 'Voucher'. Or 'Food Stamp'. Now it will be the responsibility of a poor man, not the responsibility of the state, to buy, not to collect from governmental outlets, food crops at the market prices, not at the prices fixed by the government. Whether a poor man will be able to buy the required amount of food for livelihood, from the market, with the money or with the voucher or the food stamp will not be the concern of the government. The logic put forward is that the right to food scheme is an intervention by the state in the market for food crops and this stands against the operation of a Free Market, a project of the Capital. This logic of the Capital is fundamentally against the concept of Rights.

Another way of disrespecting the Right to Food is by naming the 'Rights' as 'Subsidy'. By substituting the concept of'Rights of the People' by the prerogative of the State. It has been argued that the subsidy given to the citizens in the form of social security schemes is the cause of the budgetary deficit. And thus it has been proposed that, for the betterment of the national economy, for financial prudence, the government should get rid of the 'Subsidy'. In correspondence with this idea, 'Subsidy' has been propagated as a derogatory term, a negative concept. It has been mentioned in the Budget that an Expenditure Management Commission will be formed. On the basis of the report of the commission the allotment on subsidies will be diminished.

Example Three: Rights of Workers. It has been proposed that a number of basic, important and first generation labour laws will be amended. Factories Act, Minimum Wages Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Labour Regulation Act, Apprenticeship Act. The proposals are, in essence, against Labour and for Capital. A few examples. 1. At present the Factory Act is applicable to a factory of minimum 10 workers with the use of electricity, and minimum 20 workers without the use of electricity. The proposal is to increase the minimum number of workers, from 10 to 20 and from 20 to 40 respectively. 2. Following the present Industrial Disputes Act, in the case of a factory with a minimum numbers of 100 workers, the factory owner is liable to take permission from the concerned authorities for the retrenchment of workers. In the case of this particular clause, the proposal is to increase the minimum number of workers to 300. 3. The Contract Labour Regulation Act is applicable in the case of engagement of minimum number of 20 workers. The proposal is to increase the number to 50. 4. The Factories Act. The proposal for enhancement of 8 Hours Work to 10 and half to 12 hours. Compulsory extra labour hour (overtime) from 50 hours per quarter to 100 hours. Women workers will not be allowed to work after 7pm. The proposal, in the pretext of security of women workers, suggests gender inequality. In the cases of appointment of child labour the parents, not the employer, will be punished. The disrespect of Rights of Workers has also been reflected in the proposal for the further encouragement of the infamous SEZ, the Special Economic Zone, where labour laws are inapplicable. The new inclusion in this category is the National Industrial Manufacturing Zone.

Example Four: Right to Land. The proposals on the amendment of the Land Acquisition Act have been made. 1. In the present Act, for land acquisition by private capital, permission is required from 80 percent of the land owners. In the amendment the figure is 50 percent in place of 80 percent. 2. In the case of Public-Private-Partnership floated as the 'PPP Model', no such permission is required. 3. No social impact survey is necessary except for the big projects and there is no mention of the definition of'Big'. 4. The clauses on compensations to the land owners for the acquisition of land will be thoroughly changed. It has also been suggested that the present Act will be divided into two. One on land acquisition and another on rehabilitation. This signifies that acquisition of land from the land owners and compensation given to them are two separate issues.

This attitude of the Government and the Capital has been extended to the domain of the rights of the forest dwellers and the rights of the scheduled tribes. The rights of these two communities on their lands are protected by legislations. Proposals have been made that these legal protections have to be removed so that forest lands and tribal lands could be acquired by the Companies.

Example Five: Right to Health. It is proposed that in the sphere of rural health services, the responsibility will be shifted from the State to the Public-Private-Partnership. The entire state infrastructure will be handed over to the private companies. In the Budget, it has been mentioned that an organization called '3P India' will be established to supply support for the PPP projects.

In this context a theoretical position has been framed that, the acceptance and fulfilment of the Rights of the People by the State is not correct investment for the 'Development'. To be precise, in the concept of the propagator of this position, for 'Capitalist Development'. Thus in order to make the state investment 'proper', it has to be shifted from the sphere of the poor to the sphere of the owners of capital. The state expenditure on Rights of the People is 'Subsidy' and that on Capital is "Investment'. This position denies the post- independence concept of the constitutional responsibility of the State to accept and fulfill the civil rights of the People.

All the suggestions, proposals, recommendations made in the Economic Survey, Budget and Governmental statements, as discussed in this short essay, have generated from a concept, termed as 'Structural Reforms'. This concept has been discussed in the Economic Survey 2014. This reminds one that in the mid-1980s, the State had accepted the 'Structural Adjustment Programme', prepared and introduced by the International Monetary Fund. That was the beginning of the withdrawal of the State from its economic responsibility to the common people, fulfillment of its commitment towards the Rights of the People. The present declaration of Structural Reforms is the next footstep. The step that has been taken now by the Modi Sarkar. The Sarkar has expressed this in the Economic Survey as the 'Second Generation Reforms'. The term 'Reform' is fascinating. The measures taken in favour of Capital and against the common people are termed as 'Reform'. In this essay it has been tried to show the motive of the reforms. The deprivation of the people from their Rights.

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014