Friday, March 27, 2009

Politics over aam admi

The Statesman (Kolkata), March 27, 2009

Against the BJP’s last election slogan of “India Shining”, the Congress is desperately trying to project that the UPA’s five-year rule has amply benefited the aam admi and reduced their sufferings.
Congress leaders are certain that these people will remain obliged to them for the welfare schemes launched by the UPA government ~ the NREGP to provide 100 days’ guaranteed jobs to villagers, Bharat Nirman to build infrastructure and thereby create more jobs, the Indira Awaas Yojana to build homes and the Rajiv Gandhi Urban Renewal Mission to facilitate urban infrastructure and ensure jobs in urban areas. These are the major flagship projects of the UPA regime which are expected to yield huge electoral dividends.
Pranab Mukherjee, acting finance minister, could not desist from campaigning for his party while presenting the interim budget by saying that the aam admi will definitely recognise the hand that has vastly removed their distress.


But what is the reality? Are the ordinary people really better off, particularly when the dual economic crisis of inflation and recession has been plaguing their lives for the past three years without any government safeguard? It is clear that the economic growth during the past five years, whatever shine it might have had, has remained mostly jobless.
A comparison of the two decades ending and beginning in 1993-94 shows that unemployment grew from 6.06 per cent to 8.28 per cent a year. As a result, the number of people employed registered a negative growth of 5.02 per cent in the latter decade when it actually increased by 1.73 per cent in the former. In conformity with declining population growth rate, both of labour force and work force grew lowly in the latter decade. But what is more worrying is the fact that although the gap between the two was negative by 0.31 per cent a year in the former decade, it has become positive by 0.22 per cent a year in the latter, implying labour force growth outweighing the work force growth to cause unemployment.
While the fall in employment in recent years is more acute in the organised sector, a fallout of recession, unorganised sector jobs have largely been low paid as well as irregular in nature. Thirty seven crore of unorganised workers countrywide, 93 per cent of the total work force, are still deprived of social securities and a protected national minimum wage law. Suggestions of the Second Labour Commission, National Commission on Enterprises in Unorganised Sector and the National Campaign Committee for Unorganised Sector Workers to bring legislations in these regards were ignored by the UPA government.
Minimal success of providing jobs under the NREGP has grossly contributed to the growing gap between labour force and work force growth in the rural areas. While persons registered under this scheme was only 28.2 per cent in 2007-08, the average job availability nationwide was only 21 days in 2008, with the states varying widely in respect of its success.
Similar is the outcome of other job providing schemes introduced one after another without tightening the operating mechanism at the state levels. This failure has intensified rural people’s distress to accentuate the poverty problem. Mani Shankar Ayer, Congress leader and Union panchayat minister, himself asserts that 84 per cent of the rural people have to live on a paltry Rs 20 or even less. Even a sizeable portion of them can earn only Rs 9 or even less per day.
This is the real condition of the rural masses who constitute the Congress’ aam admi. Against this, India has four in the list of top 10 billionaires in the world. What a glaring disparity!

The ordinary Indian citizens are mostly farmers whom our leaders forgot while signing the agricultural treaties under the WTO; this paved the way for unrestricted import of agricultural produce, preventing farmers from getting supportive crop prices and thereby pushing them, hugely indebted, towards committing suicide. This is no doubt the saddest event since independence; the much hyped dazzling economic growth over the years pales into insignificance.
In the decade since 1997 as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 1.83 lakh farmers committed suicide, while it is more than 1 lakh in the past five years. Maharashtra, the home state of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who is one of the prime ministerial aspirants this time, heads the list with more than 5,000 suicides, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
The much publicised loan waiver scheme of Rs 60,000 crore has only benefited the rich farmers and the banks without reaching the needy.
The UPA leaders are feeling relieved that a huge sum of Rs 2,29,341 crore has been spent on rural economy, apart from fertilizer subsidy and special packages, to boost agriculture and infrastructure, including roads, health, water and sanitation. In it, NREGP and Bharat Nirman, the UPA’s two mostly favoured job providing schemes, took Rs 30,000 crore and Rs 40,900 crore, respectively. But where has the money gone?
A Wardha farmer says that the money has travelled to the city markets through the village rich to be mostly used in urban real estates and has never reached areas like Bundlekhand, Kalahandi, Vidarbha, Telangana, Hassan or Wynad where incidence of suicides is growing alarmingly.
P Chidambaram in the past four years and Pranab Mukherjee this year have provided enough sops and freebies to the agricultural sector without any noticeable uplift. The problem lies more in marketing the crops than production. This simple truth has never been understood by our leaders. Our farmers have never got the assured markets and lifting the quantitative restriction on imports of major farm crops has put the last nail in the coffin.
Another very vulnerable sector is hand weaving which has also been pushed to the brink of ruin by the unrestricted import of cheap silk or imitation silk cloth from China and embroidery machines under the liberalised import regime of the WTO. Already 47 weavers are reported to have ended their lives in the Varanasi sub-division of Uttar Pradesh, being unable to meet the basic needs; government schemes have only helped the rich traders to prosper instead of the weavers.
Unorganised farmers in search of a voice seem to have found one. Kalavati, an uneducated village widow, is now a very famous name as she leads an association of farmers’ widows in Yavatmal district of Vidarbha in Maharashtra under the banner of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti. It is now a growing army of 1.6 lakh-plus widows. The samiti members are demanding compensation from the government for the death of their husbands. It also wants proper facilities of marketing instead of government doles, without which, as Kalavati has rightly realised, farmers will refuse to sell food, making agriculture a losing proposal. Then half of the farmers will flee the villages, while the other half will stick to farming only to ensure survival of their families.
It’s high time our leaders took this warning seriously and acted without delay to strengthen and extend cooperative societies, so that agriculture is sustained for the real benefit of the aam admi and economic growth becomes an inclusive one.
(The writer is Reader of Economics, Durgapur Government College)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. It is due to people like you that the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression is alive. Keep up the good work. Hey, by the way, do you mind taking a look at our new website It has various interesting sections. Who knows, it might just have the right kind of stuff that you are looking for.

Also, if you like this website, can you please recommend it to your friends. Your little help would help us in a big way.

Thank you,

The Future Mantra