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Lecture on Accountability Reforms in India by Prashant Bhushan

SATTVIKA ASHOK

Noted activist and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan delivered an engaging lecture on the 9th of April at National Law School of India, University on ‘Accountability reforms through laws, institutions, and social movements’. Mr Bhushan has been closely associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform and the conceptualisation of the Jan Lokpal as a product of the India Against Corruption movement. According to Mr Bhushan, due to the absence of a strong citizen lobby, public policy in India has been serving vested commercial interests. 

Commenting on the realms of Public Interest Litigation and human rights, Mr Bhushan stressed the need for transparency, accountability and time bound delivery of service in the functioning of government institutions. To ensure so, the importance of grievance redressal by an appellate authority, independent of the government at both the Central and State level is critical. As a result, people’s groups have demanded the reintroduction of the ‘Right of Citizens for Time bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011‘ which had lapsed earlier in the assembly. Mr Bhushan also discussed the existing legal framework under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to access information under the control of public authorities. While the legal provision for seeking information has been revolutionary, proactive disclosure has been largely missing. In addition, the Central Information Commission set up under the RTI Act was perceived to be incompetent where appointments have been based on political considerations without transparency. The Central Vigilance Commission, an apex Indian governmental body created in 1964 to address governmental corruption, reported that corruption complaints against various government departments jumped by a whopping 67 percent in 2016 over the previous year. (India 2017) The CVC that has a supervisory jurisdiction over the Central Bureau of Investigation has been criticised for its lack of effectiveness and investigative machinery. Therefore, Mr Bhushan believed there is a need for strong robust institutions, reforms, and laws to maintain transparency in governance, including the most important institution, the judiciary.  

Prashant Bhushan is also known for his association in the public interest domain with Transparency International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and his stance the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and other areas. When asked what keeps him going, he replied, “when there is a huge injustice, you cannot close your eyes and walk away.” Given the role of media in politics today, where the mainstream media is showing signs of fascism, on asked whether a movement like Indian Against Corruption is possible, while Mr Bhushan agrees that citizen activism is harder, the new media and social media are increasingly able to capture the voice of the public.

References:

India, Press Trust of, ed. 2017. 67% jump in corruption complaints; railways tops: CVC. New Delhi, April 13.

Image source:

Image Reference: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/krishna-remark-prashant-bhushan-apologises-says-unintentionally-hurt-sentiments-of-many/

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sattvikaashok@nls.ac.in )

A peek into the mise en scène of climate diplomacy

APOORVA S

“Paris Agreement is not ambitious enough since it has only given effect to soft obligations,” says Mr. Raman Mehta, an expert on climate change. 

In his special lecture with Public Policy students of the batch 2016-18, Mr. Mehta spoke on “The Science of Climate Change: Feeding into the politics of Climate Change and Paris Agreement” on 10th and 11th of January 2017. He gives a glimpse into the seriousness of the Indian government in integrating climate change concerns into development strategies, plans, and programs.

In the past, Mr. Raman Mehta has worked on the issues of forests and wildlife at The Indian Institute of Public Administration, Department of International Development at the British High Commission, on conservation and management of protected areas at World Wide Fund for Nature – India, on developmental issues, climate change, social inclusion and public policy at ActionAid – India. He is currently the Policy head at Vasudha Foundation. He works on demystifying the different facets of sustainable development and climate change through umpteen number of research work and participation  at international conferences.

The following article is the gist of the author’s own  research paper submitted for the course Political Economy of India addressing the question of “why Paris Accord will fail to address climate emergency”, it is supplemented with insights from Mr. Mehta’s lecture.

The design of climate pledge

Paris Accord glorifies the bottom-to-top approach giving the freedom for all the countries to design their own INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) justifying on how the contribution is fair towards achieving the objective of the UN’s Climate Convention and delineate the approach regarding the calculation of the Green House Gas emissions. Each country can show a different base year from which emissions will be reduced obliterating the historical responsibility of the largest producers of industrial carbon emissions from leading the cause. The developing countries feel this is the cheating point or, the flimsy deal. However, the pledge being decided by countries themselves is somehow intended to guarantee that the governments are unlikely to violate it. This point of view, indicates that the format of INDC’s hovers between top-down and bottom-up, with the UN monitoring their seriousness (Yeo 2015). The threshold required to give legal force to the agreement was achieved on 5th October 2016 when countries accounting for 55 per cent of global GHG emissions deposited their instrument of ratification. Speaking on this, Mr. Raman Mehta observed that only certain clauses which deal with the reporting of GHG emissions are legally binding in the Paris Agreement. Hence, except for the progressive nature of INDC’s, there seem to be no other pressure points.

The call for climate justice

Food security is a common sensitive challenge. Deficit rainfall and natural disasters worsen poverty and hunger as vulnerable economies bear the brunt of climate change rapidly. More socio-economic issues directly related to the climate changes are encountered on a day-to-day basis which is irrevocable in nature. India reformulated the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ by adding ‘respective capabilities’ (CBDR – RC) calling it the bedrock of collective enterprise. This is to clearly indicate that equitable carbon and development space are straightforward requirements of developing countries. The commitment to combat climate change by the developing countries is limited in many ways, since their development is invariably tied to a proportional increase in GHG emissions. This is true so far as history indicates. However, in certain sectors like transport, China and India are decoupling by building metro rails in their busiest cities to bring forth affordable and zero carbon emissions in the mass public transport sector.

Unaddressed climate migration and environmental refugees

The Paris Agreement missed the crucial aspect of providing relief and alternative to those who are affected by climate change induced migration, which is expanding every day. The section on climate-refugees
‘Loss and Damage’ makes recommendations for setting up a task force for addressing climate migration. However, the task force has no binding authority and its operations, functions, funding sources are not clear because of which the problem of migration will not be considered as the first priority. The ‘Loss and Damage’ is, therefore, a mere deliberation process under the Warsaw Conference of 2013. Furthermore, the draft of Paris Agreement which contained provisions for Climate Change Displacement Coordination Facility intended to secure emergency relief, target organised migration and planned relocation of displaced people, compensating for those displaced does not feature in the final text of the Accord.

Concern regarding the climate finance

The most contentious issue of the climate change agreement is regarding the investment – the funding and disbursement processes for efficient technology transfer to enable green transition and carbon peaking of developing economies. The developed countries are hesitant with this responsibility and are often unclear and silent on the ways to enable the processes like sources of funding, terms of funding, purpose of funding, the agencies (public sector or private sector) of funding and the kind of funding. Very often the use of political ambiguous language of ‘financial compensation’ and the ‘rehabilitation’ is spoken about extensively. Mr. Raman Mehta reflects on the fact that ‘compensation paradigm’ of the Paris Agreement has caused immense pressure and anxiousness among the developed countries which is inhibiting the cooperation for a seamless flow of finance from the developed to the developing countries. This diluted mindset is a threat and a menace as it can stall the process of implementation of clean energy systems, which are undoubtedly expensive, leading to disproportionate burden on the developing countries.

The common thread for the all the countries

Helvetas06So far as the extreme weather changes are concerned and maintaining the balance between inclusive economic growth and social development, the policy matrix in developing countries is stratified with priorities of Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate poverty and ‘leave no one behind’.

India’s two major international efforts in launching the International Solar Alliance to form a group of 107 sunshine countries to enable them to switch to a low-carbon path by solar power utilization and ratifying the Paris Agreement on 2nd October 2016 on the International Non-Violence Day expresses its aspiration to tackle climate change with a forethought to internalize the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in all its endeavours. However, the local urban environment in India tells a different story in the efforts to switch to low-carbon path. In the year 2000, New Delhi mandated the use of CNG in all public vehicles to mitigate vehicular air pollution showing improvement in air quality, yet in the past two years Delhi is among the top cities in the world highly affected by air pollution. The lack of constant innovation, preparedness for urbanization, awareness about the growth of personal vehicles, lack of pollution checks on the industries in rapidly growing cities and biomass burning have negated the gains of focused policies on curbing sectoral air pollution. India must, therefore, invest in comprehensive planning, legislation and finance the grassroots level of governance on recycling, renewable energy, critical infrastructure and technology, encourage community-centric territorial planning that control rural-urban continuum. 

        Mr. Raman Mehta explained how the process of climate change leads to dangerous feedback loops – increased number of warm and cold days accompanied by extreme weather fluctuations, heavy precipitation and submergence of deltaic regions and islands, mass displacement of ice sheet and melting of glaciers such as the recent breaking of massive ice block in Antarctica and the rift that grew by 18 kilometers. He further said, this has put a focus on the need to look for innovative mitigation measures more intensely than the adaptation measures, as the latter is finite and limited.

It is often understood that climate change is only part of the problem but there are other factors like human-led land use changes and deforestation that pose immediate and deeper problems affecting daily life. Humanitarian crisis related to civil unrest like migration and military conflict influenced by climate change are becoming more prominent, such as the ongoing Syrian crisis which illustrates the culmination of agricultural drought, with political failure and willpower to mitigate the challenges of dwindling resources (Shank and Wirzba 2013). Therefore, wide-spread negotiations continue to be focused on climate change on the principle of equity and shared vision. These have in the past lead to formulation of initiatives like international emissions trading, clean development mechanism, joint implementation. More recently, carbon capture sequestration has emerged as a niche effort in energy sustainability. The cornerstone is to invoke global solidarity in action plans without the vested business and diplomacy of trying to pressurize the finance receiving nations to manipulate their national economic policies. Policy decisions which require adequate assessment of nature’s resilience capacity, conserving forest wealth, disaster management and rural livelihood security are immediately required to be chartered out with expertise and institutional capacities indigenous to each economy.

(Apoorva is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in)

References

Yeo, Sophie. 2015. “Explainer: What Are ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’?”. Carbonbrief.Org. https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-what-are-intended-nationally-determined-contributions.

Shank, Michael, and Emily Wirzba. 2013. “How Climate Change Sparked The Crisis In Syria”. Usnews.Com. https://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/09/13/syrias-crisis-was-sparked-by-global-warming-and-drought.

Live Mint (e-paper). 2017. “Massive Antarctic Ice Shelf Ready To Break Apart”. http://www.livemint.com/Science/Co2Gpz7ccx7v2yX7l0BuQN/Massive-Antarctic-ice-shelf-ready-to-break-apart.html.

“Renewable Technology Is The Future: Raman Mehta | State Knowledge Management Centre On Climate Change”. 2014. Climatechangeportal.Mp.Gov.In. http://www.climatechangeportal.mp.gov.in/en/news-events/interviews/renewable-technology-future-raman-mehta.

“Lack Of Clarity On Legal Nature Of Paris Deal A Concern For India | ORF”. 2015. ORF. http://www.orfonline.org/research/lack-of-clarity-on-legal-nature-of-paris-deal-a-concern-for-india/.

Featured images source:

https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/climate-refugee.htm

http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/en/sustainable-development-goals.html

Forest Rights Act: Ten years later

EDITORS

MPP 2016-2018

December 18th, 2006 witnessed the historic passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Almost a decade later there is only a tiny portion of the vast forest land of India which has been brought under its purview. The tribal population all over India still face an ongoing struggle on a daily basis but with considerable support from civil society groups and Government officials, they have been partially successful in acquiring their rights under the act. We take this opportunity to share a glimpse of their lives which we observed during our fieldwork visit.

samata-img_5252

This village Panchayat (or Rachabanda in Telegu), in Andhra Pradesh meeting, to discuss Rehabilitation & Resettlement package they will receive if the Polavaram Dam project goes through. The package being offered to them is as per the 2013 Act and not the updated version they are entitled to, causing them a loss of nearly Rs. 6,00,000. The project has forced the villagers to understand Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006 – all laws that rely on vigilant and aware Gram Panchayats to protect local interests.

                In a corner of Rajasthan, this is the state of the government primary school. It has been running for approximately four years and at present, 52 stud
img_3528ents study under this shelter.
A local man is willing to donate the land it currently stands on but due to errors in his application filing, it was immediately rejected. He had originally filed an individual rights claim (as laid out in 3(1) of the Act) instead of a community development claim (as given in 3(2)).  Despite the ambitious promise of the Act, a lack of understanding of its details prevents many communities on Scheduled lands from receiving their basic rights, in this case, primary education.

                  The Nayakheda village in Achalpur block of Melghat in Maharashtra is one of the model villages in the area. The Gram Sabha with help from non-governmental organisations like KHOJ has successfully acquired its rights under the Forest Rights Act. The villagers have also established their rights over the vast forest land and taken it upon themselves to protect, conserve and reforest the area. It is the present generation which has made a rigorous effort to restore their forest and agricultural land, stopped migration and hence built a stable village economy.

                    In the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the seven forest dependent tribes of Kodagu district are the Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Panjari Yerava, Pani Yerava, Malekudiya, Soligas and Marathi / Naiks.

unnamed-16-1
Image source: CORD

The socio-political and economic disparities can be explained due to the gaps in the implementation of Forest Rights Act, along with the lack of transparency and accountability of the Forest bureaucracy. Characterised by the colonial mindset of administration and solitary decision-making authority, the forest wealth and lives of the tribals has been under rigid surveillance by the forest department. The struggle for rights has been an ongoing saga but has gathered momentum in the form of civil society organisations which are playing an instrumental role in advocacy and campaigning for implementation of Forest Rights Act. Kodagu is also famous for the Nagarhole Park which is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, declared as the thirty-seventh Tiger reserve under ‘Project Tiger’ in 1999. Coorg Organization for Rural Development (CORD), an NGO has documented several case studies regarding the violation of rights and skewed rehabilitation arising from such conservation regimes.

Our fieldwork participation helped us see that the experience of the Forest Rights Act is varied, with different regions facing specific challenges. Despite this, many of India’s forest dwelling communities retain deep connections with the forest and can protect them more effectively than a distant bureaucracy.
The Forest Rights Act recognises this wisdom and the benefits of a ‘democratic forest’, but it needs sustaining commitment and cooperation in order to succeed.

 

(The group in Andhra Pradesh took the accompanying photo and included Arvind Balaji, Kalidoss Nanditha, Rohith CH and Shreoshi Dutta. 
The group in Rajasthan took the accompanying photo and included Devarchan Banerjee and Smita Mutt. 
The group in Maharashtra took the featured photo and included Aishwarya Gupte, Doohan Vaz and Trisrota Dutta. 
The group in Karnataka included Ananya BJ, Anoop Ramakrishnan, Apoorva S, Kabir Khan and Sattvika Ashok.)

Climate Change in India: Challenges and Solutions

Sai Charan Bandaru

To begin with, India is the fourth largest emitter of Green House Gases (GHG) and has the obligation to take a proactive stance since it is going to be one of the worst victims of climate change as mentioned in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The estimated countrywide agricultural loss in 2030 will be over $7 billion. It could severely affect the livelihoods of at least 10 percent of the population. Wheat yields in the Gangetic plains are expected to experience a 51 percent reduction in the most high-yielding areas due to heat stress. This region currently produces 14 to 15 percent of the world’s wheat and feeds around 200 million people of the region. Extreme temperatures are expected to increase by 1-4°C, with a maximum increase in coastal regions.

If the impact of climate change is felt at local levels then adaptation measures should also focus on the same instead of imposing it from the top. The need of the hour is not to wait for global aid or wait for the negotiations to be successful, but to act intelligently at the local levels since small, consistent efforts bring about lasting change. The AR5 suggests that about 80 percent of the agricultural losses could be reduced if climate resilient and cost effective agricultural practices are followed. For example, simple measures like rainwater harvesting can prevent intensive groundwater usage and the need for constructing large dams which will eventually harm the ecology. However, the real challenge lies in implementing the same across India. Constitutional challenges like division of powers between the Centre and the States – agriculture belonging to the state list, lack of political incentives for the policy makers to take far-reaching steps, non-homogeneity of geographical features etc (e.g. rain water harvesting measures for the plains of Uttar Pradesh and the dry land regions like Vidarbha in Maharashtra are entirely different) are major hurdles. Most importantly, we should take into account people’s reaction to any changes in their agricultural practices. Particularly in India, where more than 80 percent are small and marginal farmers, their willingness to adopt a new practice is fraught with difficulties and it compounds when it is taken for the entire country. Under such circumstances, the optimal policy level solution is to tweak the existing programs instead of framing a new program altogether.

One alternative is to create a separate component in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) that includes climate change adaptation measures like rainwater harvesting and climate-resilient agricultural practices in the dry land. NREGS is well penetrated in all the states where dry land agriculture is practised, namely Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand (constitutes nearly 60 percent of the net area under cultivation). The awareness regarding the harmful effects of climate change and adaptation measures must be penetrated to the local levels and demand for sustainable agriculture must come from the people. Once the demand is created it will be easier for the climate resilient crop varieties to enter the market. Moreover, the process involves participation which is a necessary prerequisite to enhance the people’s capacity to handle climate change.

In the energy sector, the obvious solutions are to increase the energy efficiency of coal plants and to promote the renewable sector. In the former, India is investing in supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies to improve the efficiency of power generation in coal plants and phase out the older generation power plants. Such measures are necessary but not sufficient in cutting the GHG emissions. Moreover, coal continues to have a major share in power generation since we still have 30 crore people who do not have access to electricity and coal is still the cheapest option. The real challenge lies in the augmentation of solar energy since compared to biomass, wind, and other renewable sources India has a geographical advantage of receiving 4-7 kWh of solar radiation per sq.km. on an average. Presently, India is running the largest renewable energy capacity addition program in the world with the target of 1,75,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022 of which solar itself constitutes about 1,00,000 MW. In the year 2014-15, it witnessed 42 percent increase in the solar capacity. Funding mechanisms like diverting additional revenues from coal cess increase ($6/ton, which is the highest clean energy cess among developing countries) to fund renewable energy projects have been initiated. But such momentum can only be sustained if it is backed by indigenous R&D, innovation, and manufacturing capability. Solar systems are dependent on local conditions and need to be optimised for specific applications and geographical factors. Therefore, a flourishing R&D base in the country is critical if India wants to convert this solar energy vision into a reality. Such an innovation ecosystem requires close collaboration between the research community and the industry. India can be a laboratory for the global R&D institutions and industry to collaborate with their Indian counterparts to come up with innovative solutions. The innovations should also focus on utilising solar power to low-cost home appliances especially in rural areas where more than 60 percent of the energy needs are met through traditional biomass-based fuels. These innovations in solar energy also need a consistent demand to make them viable in the long run. Online platforms like e-commerce sites can be incentivized by the government to market them with competitive pricing. By virtue of its geographical advantage, it can actually be a focus point for research in solar energy provided right incentives are given from the policy side.

Another area where creative solutions are required is the creation of carbon sinks. They are necessary to trap the emissions in the atmosphere and bring them back to the carbon cycle. India is following the afforestation program to increase its carbon intake capacity. For the past 27 years, India has been trying to increase its forest cover from the present 23 percent to 33 percent, which still remains a pipe dream due to increasing pressures to achieve rapid industrial development. The problem lies in the poor implementation of the afforestation program. Afforestation is often seen in India as a compensatory mechanism for the forests destroyed and not as a source of revenue generation for the timber products and other forest produce, particularly for the local communities. Sufficient studies in this area are required to market afforestation as an innovative tool for climate change adaptation. Nearly 40 percent of the forest cover in the country is degraded and the trick lies in increasing the productivity of this land instead of searching for new barren lands through mapping using satellite data already available for these lands. The administration becomes easier if the local communities were made a part of this process. If they are allowed to sell the forest produce it becomes an incentive to protect them. Also, agroforestry can be coupled with it to augment their revenues. Research focus should be on promotion of those species of plants that have high carbon sequestration potential.

Innovations are also required for a sustainable habitat through energy efficiency and smart urban management. More than 30 percent of the emissions are from the urban areas. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (one of the eight missions under NAPCC) talks about improvements in waste management, recycling of waste water, sewage utilisation, sludge management and extensive increase in public transport like Rapid Bus Transit, Metro Rail improving the energy efficiency of buildings etc. in urban areas. Each of these problems requires separate attention and they are much bigger issues even if we do not consider the climate change aspect. For example, urban waste management is a vexing issue with problems ranging from bureaucratic apathy to lack of appropriate technologies suited for local needs. Even more is the increasing vehicular pollution. Before we see the complete effects of climate change, India needs to address its homegrown pollution which has more immediate and direct impact on its people. For example, the Uttarakhand floods in 2012 were caused by poor urban management meddling with the sensitive Himalayan ecology.

To achieve that target of limiting the temperature rise to below 2ᴼC by 2100, the world can emit only 2900 Giga ton (Gt) of Carbon dioxide. Till 2011 the world has emitted 1900 Gt, meaning the carbon budget is highly constrained and the remaining 1000 Gt has to be used judiciously for the next 80 years through the means of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Although it requires collective action, India cannot wait for anyone. The focus of the mitigation and adaptation measures in India should be to find innovative indigenous solutions which will complement foreign-funded programs like Clean Development Mechanism. After all, we are living in a time borrowed from our future generations and it is never too late to act.

 

 

This essay was submitted for the European Union-The Hindu Centre Essay Competition

(Sai Charan Bandaru is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at scharan@nls.ac.in)

Sources

Chikkatur, A. (2008). A Resource and Technology Assessment of Coal Utilization in India. Coal Initiative reports. Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. Available at http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/Coal-Initiative-Series-Rubin.pdf

IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

Jaiswal, A, India’s Climate Change Challenge,2013 (Interview). Available at  http://www.nbr.org/downloads/pdfs/outreach/NBR_IndiaCaucus_Oct2013.pdf

Ministry of Finance, GoI, (2015). Climate Change and Sustainable development. India Economic Survey 2014-15. Available at http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2014-15/echapvol2-08.pdf

Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, (2008). National Action Plan on Climate Change. GoI.. Available at http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/home/Pg01-52.pdf

Ujjwal Bharat (2015), Ministry of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, GoI. Available at http://mnre.gov.in/file-manager/UserFiles/Power-Brochure-English.pdf 

 

 

Featured image source: http://llco.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/drought

From Haymarket Square to Hosur Road: State of workers in India in 3 charts

Sachin Tiwari

The revolution never came. Battles of workers’ rights were won but the war often lost across the world. This is what unites the Haymarket Affair of 1886 with the garment workers’ protest on Hosur Road in Bengaluru a fortnight back. From 1886 to 2016, the world has tried every conceivable arrangement of the economic system, yet workers have never seemed to have found a way out of the daily insecurities of their wages and livelihoods.

Today, as countries across the world celebrate International Labour Day, it presents an occasion to look back at labour welfare over the century. The paradox is that the concerns of the workers don’t appear to have changed from the Haymarket incident to India’s Hosur Road protests in Bengaluru. Some may be quick to point out that Haymarket was about an 8 hour work day and Bengaluru protest was workers protesting against an arbitrary and sudden change in Employees’ Provident Fund rules pertaining to withdrawal of funds by the workers.  However, at a broader level, the nature arguably remains the same – the arbitrariness exercised by employers in dealing with workers, work conditions, wages and matters which are related to their livelihood. The sense of insecurity among the workers remains high, as seen in the extremely short time that it took from the notification of changed rules to the demonstration that happened across the garment industries clusters in Bengaluru.

Lenin’s sense of confidence in his 1919 May Day speech and the international optimism with the formation of International Labour Organization (ILO) in the same year was remarkable.  The Russian daily Izvestia reported a part of Lenin’s speech two days later:

Pointing to the children, Lenin said that they, who were taking part in the celebration of the festival of the emancipation of labour, would fully enjoy the fruits of the labours and sacrifices of the revolutionaries.

Our grandchildren will examine the documents and other relics of the epoch of the capitalist system with amazement. It will be difficult for them to picture to themselves how the trade in articles of primary necessity could remain in private hands, how factories could belong to individuals, how some men could exploit others, how it was possible for those who did not work to exist. Up to now the story of what our children would see in the future has sounded like a fairy-tale; but today, comrades, you clearly see that the edifice of socialist society, of which we have laid the foundations, is not a utopia. Our children will build this edifice with oven greater zeal.” (Stormy applause)

The world moved on quickly from that moment in history. The capitalist system contrary to Lenin’s dream is not a relic but the order of the day. Factories have increasingly gone on to belong to individuals. Free market economics soon took over pounding the socialist dream to fine dust.

Back home, India of 2016 too has ventured far away from the socialist dream of some of its leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi prefers to mark this day in 140 characters on twitter with this message –

“On Labour Day we salute the hard work, determination & dedication of millions of Shramiks who have an invaluable role in the making of India” (sic)

The point of this post is to illustrate that the developments related to workers’ rights and welfare should be a cause of concern to policy makers. The workers continue to contribute to the making of India but they certainly need more attention and care than what can be expressed in 140 characters.

The first chart (Chart 1) indicates a quiet and unseen quelling of workers’ right to collective action. In a nine-year period from 2000 to 2009 the number of registered trade unions has halved. Labour movements thrive on collective action. It is not a hard guess to figure the bargaining power that the workers might be left with in the wake of a declining number of registered unions across the country.

sachin - chart1

Chart 1: Chart was developed from MOSPI data available on data.gov.in

 

The next major trend was affirmed formally by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector under Arjun Sengupta’s lead (the Commission’s report was long withheld by GoI for reasons best known to the corridors of Vyapar Bhavan). The report as indicated –

 “…is focused on the informal or the unorganised economy which accounts for an overwhelming proportion of the poor and vulnerable population in an otherwise shining India. It concentrates on a detailed analysis of the conditions of work and lives of the unorganised workers consisting of about 92 percent of the total workforce of about 457 million (as of 2004-05). For most of them, conditions of work are utterly deplorable and livelihood options extremely few. Such a sordid picture coexists uneasily with a shining India that has successfully confronted the challenge of globalisation powered by increasing economic competition both within the country and across the world…

Further, it found that –

At the end of 2004-05, about 836 million or 77 percent of the population were living below Rs. 20 a day and constituted most of India’s informal economy.

Understandably, this was a damning report to come out in 2007 and most certainly was kept away from public attention. Chart 2 compares the formal and informal sector employment in organised and unorganised sectors.

 

sachin - chart2
Chart 2: The chart was developed from datasets available on data.gov.in 

 

Finally, let us examine the central spending on social security across various categories of expenditure of GoI. This is to illustrate the state of neglect and dereliction of the state from its professed commitment to workers’ welfare.

sachin - chart3

Chart 3: This data was first presented by Ravi Duggal at Medico Friends Circle meeting in Hyderabad, 2013. The figures are extracted from Ministry of Finance's annual publication Indian Public Finance Statistics - 2012-2013

 

Labour welfare as observed from the chart, forms least of the priority compared to pension and retirement benefits for civil servants. The priorities of GoI, if not stated, can sure be observed from these patterns of spending. In the Indian government’s imagination it isn’t the workers but civil servants who have an invaluable role in the making of India. Perhaps!

Bottomline

For all the optimistic, enthusiasm laden lectures that labour rights lawyers and professors make in the country’s many universities, the real picture isn’t a happy one. Neither is it a narrative of winning the rights cause. If any, it is a losing battle and thinkers, professors and lawyers must necessarily move beyond the glory song of rights won. The direction to move in is to think of how must the workers be armed (not in the weapons sense) to take on this shove from the current economic system which appears to be shortchanging them left, right and center.

 

(Sachin Tiwari is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at sachin.t@nls.ac.in)

Sources

V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org), 2002

Narendra Modi Twitter post (https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/726604459778936832)

Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics (https://ruralindiaonline.org/resources/report-on-conditions-of-work-and-promotion-of-livelihoods-in-the-unorganised-sector/)

 

 

 

Featured image source: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/files/2012/02/Indian-construction-workers.jpg