Industry Sans Employment

Will History Repeat itself in Bengal as a Farce?

Atanu Chakravarty

The official slogan of industrialisation that emanated from the corridors of power during the fag end of Left Front Government and which dug the grave of 34 years of Left Front hegemony, has now resurrected again. And now, the present Chief Minister of Bengal Ms Mamata Banerjee, has embarked upon the road of industrialising Bengal, desperately trying to erase the anti- industrial image she earned when she was in her high-noon of political opposition. Irony, per se!

At a recent press conference with all the senior bureaucrats of the officialdom, where she declared, "all the works on social plane have been completed. Now, Government's aim is to develop industry-generate employment and building infrastructure." She mentioned the following facts :

1)  During the last ten years, 4.5 lakh crore was invested in the industry. But, she failed to mention the name of those industries that received investment, the most embarrassing questions of the number of people employed, their nomenclature, quantum of wages, nature of work etc were cleverly avoided.

2)  She informed, out of the total investment, MSMEs received Rs 3.42 crore for salvaging their sagging economy. But, yet again, she had not mentioned whether those industries were able to rejuvenate themselves and the number of people employed in those units. On 3 February, the Union Minister of MSME Sri Narayan Rane informed the Lok Sabha that during FY 21, 67 percent of MSMEs that participated in a survey, were shut ( though the number is much bigger, according to the entrepreneurs of the industry), and over 50 percent witnessed a decline of over 25 percent in their revenues in 2020-21. The Minister further stated, 66 percent of those units reported decline in profitability and revenue.

The Chief Minister of Bengal claimed that MSMEs received investment but was oblivion of the fact that 36 percent of units had taken loans but these loans brought only a sigh of relief to some while thousands could not benefit from the scheme and eventually got closed, as reported by Animesh Saxena, President of Federation of Indian Micro & Small, Medium Enterprises( FIMSME). A substantial number of enterprises never knocked the doors of financial institutions for business loans, because they felt scarcity of demand in the economy was looming large and it is telling upon them.

3)  Mamata Banerjee informed the press, her main aim is to develop domestic industries. But, what is the state of affairs of domestic industries? She is now at the helm of state power for the third consecutive terms. Jute and Tea are the two century old labour- intensive traditional industries in Bengal. Both these industries have a fare share in the State's exchequer. But today they are facing severe crisis.

The 17th meeting of Minimum Wage Advisory Committee on Tea was held on 4 March, 2022, at Siliguri, which was chaired by the Principal Secretary, Labour Dept. In that meeting he said, tea gardens were suffering from shortage of labour as the wages of tea garden workers were not attractive enough for work in the tea gardens. Consequently, there is a migration of workers from the tea gardens in search of better wages.

Shortage of workforce in Darjeeling Hills is about 32 percent, while it is about 30 per cent in Dooars. This shortfall is resulting to sub-optimal production. Though discussion started on the issue of Minimum Wage fixation in 2015, seven years have passed but the issue has not yet been resolved. On the contrary, Tea Garden owners are engaging outstation workers who are paid more wages (sans all other statutory benefits) than the prevailing wages of tea gardens. Many male workers do not find interest in working in tea gardens. As a result, percentage of female workers has been increasing.

The Jute industry of the state is facing similar problems for years together. Less wage, hazardous working condition coupled with extreme uncertainty have led to acute shortage of work-force in this industry too. The Mamata Government's anti strike, no demonstration at workplace policies have only helped the employers to unleash unprecedented attack on the working people. Now, in Bengal mandays lost due to lockout is 100 percent, while mandays lost due to strike is nil. The enhancement in basic wage for the Jute workers during the last tripartite agreement in 2015 was only Re 1, which was boycotted by all the left Trade Unions.

The Chief Minister is going to hold an All India Trade /Industrial fair at Kolkata in the month of April, and PM Modi has agreed to inaugurate that jamboree. Adani - Ambani and all the bigwigs of the industry have agreed to participate in this mega event. Addressing the press conference, she presented an unending list of industries and "would be " infrastructure for attracting new investment for the state" and Deocha Pachami coal block, supposed to be the second largest coal block in the world is the biggest challenge for her, with an investment of more than Rs 30 thousand crore. She openly threatened to crush any opposition that would "destabilise " this coal project in the area of Birbhum district.

The billion dollar question of unemployment was not addressed by the Chief Minister. She told the proposed industrialisation would generate millions of job, but never answered the question why lakhs and lakhs of state government posts are lying vacant in different government department/semi government / autonomous bodies, why, following the footsteps of Modi government, she has abolished more than 5.5 lakh posts in government offices. During COVID times, within a span of two years, 2.5 lakh posts of primary school teachers remained vacant. 1 lakh 39 thousand posts of Group - D employees have not been filled though everyday Kolkata is witnessing movement on this issue which is mercilessly suppressed by the state police.

Behind the facade of rapid strides towards industrialisation, lies Mamata Banerjee Government’s reckless move to reduce the job market with informal employment. She has come out with an offer to engage graduates in government jobs for Rs five thousand per month. Even as 45 thousand and 75 thousand posts are still lying vacant respectively in Kolkata and Bengal police, civic volunteers are engaged in huge numbers. Post COVID scenario has brought a regressive, alarming change in Indian job market - whopping increase of informal workforce in all sectors. These workers are now engaged even in hazardous jobs with far less wages, sans all social security benefits. No doubt history is going to be repeated as a farce in Bengal!

Back to Home Page

Vol 54, No. 43, April 24 - 30, 2022