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Monday, June 1, 2015

Modi's first year - Reality and illusion by Justice Rajinder Sachar

The Tribune
Friday, May 22, 2015

Reality and illusion
The Modi government is soft towards big businesses

Rajindar Sachar

Last year when the BJP with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister romped home with an overwhelming majority of its own, people thought that for the next few years this government was untouchable and any mass discontent would be just wished away. Any such self-conceit amongst the BJP loyalists now remains scattered on the roads of towns and in the fields of villages. 

The reasons are not far to seek. An old adage that “you can fool all the people for some time and some people for all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time” is as true today as when it was first formulated. 

As it is even the original impression was totally out of sync with reality because it should be remembered that the Modi majority was occasioned by a faulty electoral system under which only 31 per cent of the votes could give such an overwhelming majority to him in the Lok Sabha. That is why there is a general view developing on two important electoral reform issues: (1) Should there be a ban on the corporate sector contributing election funds — as was the practice in the USA till a couple of year back? (2) Instead of the present system, should we not think of the list system which is more democratic and reflects public opinion more equitably and is prevalent in Europe? 

But in spite of this, the BJP government continues to remain in illusion as has been witnessed by its contumacious approach to the mass agitations against the land acquisition Act 2013 as amended by the ordinances brought in by the Modi government and its efforts to weaken the trade union movement by making regressive changes in industrial laws. 

As it is, the land acquisition Act 2013 was the result of a mass agitation by the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar and a great number of human rights activists and socialists. The UPA government had resisted it till the last until overwhelmed by massive public protests. It is ironical that the UPA constituents should now be boasting of being farmer supporters after having resisted these changes like the social impact assessment provision which, I remember, was incorporated as far back as 1990 by a resolution of the United Nations Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (of which I was then a member) and which was soon after ratified by the United Nations. Obviously the BJP is inviting ridicule by purporting to act against the views of the U.N. 

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At present under the Indian Trade Union Act 1926, any seven or more members of a trade union can apply for registration as a trade union. The Central Government wants to raise the number to 100. The result obviously would be to deny the right to trade unionism to the overwhelming number of workers in small factories which, as it is, are the more exploited ones. This attack on labour is so blatantly partisan when it is compared with the Companies Act 2013, under which only seven persons can apply for forming a public company with a minimum paid-up share capital of Rs 5 lakh (though its capital can be in millions). This provision continues to be the same as it was under the 1956 Act, but for labour an extra unconscionable burden of having 100 members is being required. Is any more blatant proof of pro-corporate affinity required? Encouragingly, the central trade unions have already given a call for nationwide protests against the anti-labour policies of the Modi government.  

Another anti-labour change being contemplated by the Central Government is to amend Section 25(O) of the Industrial Disputes Act, which requires permission of the appropriate government if an employer wishes to close down an industrial enterprise. At present it is applicable to enterprises with 100 workmen (i.e. about 75% of the total labour force). To weaken labour, it is sought to amend the law by applying it to undertakings employing 300 workmen - virtually throwing three-fourth workmen in the lairs of industrial tycoons.    

As it is, there is the international corporate pressure as is evident from the proceedings at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), where the corporate lobby is desperately making all efforts for ensuring that the right of workmen to strike should be banned. That such a move should even be debated is a matter of grave concern. How could such a move be even allowed to be discussed at the I.L.O., a body meant to preserve and enhance workers' rights and privileges all over? 

The right to strike is a sacred, essential weapon in the hands of workers and it has emerged as the inherent right of every worker and is of the very essence of the principle of collective bargaining. The Modi government, if it wishes to erase its softness towards big businesses, must publicly announce that it will oppose at the I.L.O. any proposal to ban strikes. 

There is patent falsehood in the Modi government's propaganda that changes in the land acquisition Act 2013 are required as an overwhelming number of government projects, which are expected to quicken the economic development for the benefit of masses, are stalled because of the unavailability of land. This excuse is patently false. If details of those 804 projects that are said to have been stalled since February 2015 are examined closely, it would show that 78 per cent of these are of the private sector. More importantly, of the 804 projects, only 8 per cent have been stalled due to land acquisition problems. 

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The government has ready land available but it will not touch it because of its proximity to the big corporate sector which got allotted land in special economic zones, but at present 50% of it remains unutilised. Under the terms of allotment the government is entitled to take back this area without paying any amount to the corporate sector. Why does the government not exercise this power?

If in spite of the agitations by kisans, industrial workers and concerned citizens against the ordinances bringing about changes to the land Acquisition Act the Modi government insists on pursuing the present course, one would be unable to find any rational explanation and will have to fall back on the only explanation offered in the popular Greek saying: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. But then the BJP would perhaps prefer its homely Sanskrit version: “Vinash kale vipreet budhi”.


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