Minimum Employment at Less than Minimum Wages
Fifty-odd years ago when our newly independent republic adopted its constitution, the state was asked to make it one of its directive principles to provide gainful employment to every able-bodied citizen. Some sixteen years ago, VP Singh came to power promising to make ‘right to work’ a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right of every Indian. That was the first and last time the ruling elite in this country flirted with this slogan. Now the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has come up with a highly diluted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that promises potential annual employment worth Rs. 6,000 to every rural family. The scheme would initially be operational in only 200 districts of the country and then extended over the next five years to all the 600 districts.
The proposed Act has already had a trial run in the form of the ongoing food for work scheme, currently in force in 150 backward districts of the country. This scheme has evoked wide criticism because it is highly restricted and offers no real guarantee on the ground. Its coverage has been restricted to only BPL families and that too only in 150 districts, and there is no guarantee of minimum wages or assured unemployment allowances in the event of work not being provided to a job seeker. Worse, field reports suggest that in most cases the scheme has been subverted, with the balance tilting in favour of contractors and tractors as opposed to the men and women who are desperately seeking some employment to survive. The nexus of contractors, corrupt officials and dealers has translated the scheme as a food-for-loot package, while for the labouring men and women it has been little more than starvation-for-work.
How does the proposed NREGA take care of these criticisms? The coverage has been raised from 150 to 200 districts with a promise to extend it to the entire country over the next five years and every rural family has potentially been brought within the purview of the scheme. But in place of minimum wage, the draft NREGA promises a fixed daily wage of Rs. 60 which is way below the stipulated minimum wage in many states. Thus in the name of empowering the common man and honouring the common minimum programme, the UPA government seeks to use the NREGA as an instrument to depress the wage level across the country. (As we go to press, the Centre has eventually agreed to honour the minimum wage clause but it has cautioned the states against raising the wage level any further!) Worse still, if irregularities are detected in implementation, the upshot would be an immediate suspension of the scheme in the concerned region, a clause that effectively provides the corrupt with yet another lever to force the poor into submission and silence.
The Congress fondly believes that the NREGA would serve as the ultimate ‘human face’ (read mask) for the government’s elitist economic agenda and would power another major revival of the Congress as the ‘garibi hataao’ slogan had done in the early 1970s. The party also hopes to silence all the critics and opponents of its economic agenda with this one single legislation. The high voltage publicity campaign surrounding the NREGA is a well calculated part of this political strategy. The people’s movement for securing the right to work as a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right must see through this political game plan. We must use this legislation as a tool or platform for effecting a broader and more vigorous mobilization and assertion of the rural poor and the unemployed youth for their basic rights while relentlessly exposing the limitation and dilution inherent in the legislation and intensifying the movement against the overall agenda of neo-liberal economic reforms.
Interestingly, the tabling of the NREGA bill in the Lok Sabha coincided with the current World Bank President’s maiden visit to India . Paul Wolfowitz, the hated American hawk who has played a key role in scripting Bush’s worldwide war and the so-called Project for a New American Century that seeks unchallenged and unilateral US domination over the entire world, has now been made World Bank President to carry on the job in other ways. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose the occasion to seek more funds from the World Bank to implement the UPA’s ambitious ‘Bharat Nirman’ agenda. Starvation wages for the poor, royalty and interest payments to the MNCs and their global benefactor, the Fund-Bank establishment. That’s Manmohanomics in action, for the aam aadmi!
Overwhelming Response to Nationwide 'Jail Bharo'
Bihar Bandh Called for Governor Buta Singh's Recall a Complete Success
Demanding recall of Bihar Governor Buta Singh and protesting anti-people policies of UPA Govt., thousands of CPI(ML) activists were arrested all over the country, blocking roads and rail tracks. Bihar Bandh too called by CPI(ML) and the other left parties on the same issues was a complete success.
While Bihar came to a standstill as people came spontaneously in support of the bandh, protest demonstrations and 'rasta roko-rail roko' were organised at all important centres in the country with thousands of party activists courting arrest. Pickets and blockades were organised in every town of Bihar and in Andhra Pradesh railway track was blocked at Tuni, national highway was blocked at Pratipadu and 'jail bharo' was held at Kakinada and Vijaywada. In Orissa, protests were held at many places including the capital Bhubaneshwar and Rayagada. Massive protests took place in other states including Jharkhand, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya along with hundreds of party activists courted arrest breaking prohibitory orders in Parliament Street in New Delhi. Addressing public meeting at Jantar-Mantar before arrest, Comrade Bhattacharya said that UPA regime is a regime of betrayal against mandate 2004. Demanding immediate recall of Buta Singh, he alleged that Buta Singh has made mockery of democracy violating all constitutional norms. The blanket transfers of officials and open patronage to criminals like Shahabuddin, RJD MP, are obviously aimed at benefitting Lalu Prasad and the Congress in the coming Assembly elections. He said that after the disclosure of Buta Singh's letter to Railway Minister and Lalu Prasad's revelations about his role in appointing Buta Singh as Governor, Buta Singh has no right to stay as Governor. Free and fair elections are no longer possible in Bihar as long as he remains in the seat of Governor.
He said that people gave mandate to UPA government to reverse the disastrous policies of Vajpayee regime. But betraying people's aspirations UPA govt. is following the footsteps of NDA regime, be it the implementation of economic policies of globalisation and liberalisation or pro-American foreign policies. Increase in petro-prices and the prices of other essentials has become a regular feature. Alleging that the exercise of making consensus on Women's Reservation Bill is actually meant to defer it further, Comrade Dipankar said that the govt. has no will power to implement the 33% reservation for the women. He said that even after more that one year of its rule the govt. is yet to present the Tribal Rights Bill in the Parliament, which was meant to ensure tribal people's rights over the forests and land. Terming the Employment Guarantee Bill as a partial victory of agrarian workers' movement, he said that the Act providing employment to only one member of the family, and that too for only a hundred days in a year, is quite insufficient. Four years' time for the implementation shows how little will power the government has to ensure universal employment. He said that the culprits of brutal repression on workers in Gurgaon are yet to be punished. Ridiculing the governments proposal of 'Bharat Nirman' with the help of World Bank, Comrade Dipankar said that the UPA govt. has turned India into the junior partner of America and given birth to serious threat to our national sovereignty and security. He said that the CPI(ML), joining hands with all struggling left and democratic forces, is committed to intensify and broaden the horizons of this battle against UPA's disastrous policies.
Cadre Convention by Left Parties in Patna
CPI(ML) and CPI along with other left parties in Bihar organised a cadre convention in Patna on August 18 as a preparatory event to make the August 24 Bihar Bandh a historic success. Cadres of all left parties opposing RJD, Congress and the NDA in Bihar pledged to unite and forge a third front against the anti-people policies and rampant criminalisation, corruption, state repression and rising unemployment.
Comrade Ramnaresh Ram welcomed the activists who had come in hundreds from all over the state and expressed hope that this unity for the struggle for the change and development of Bihar will pave the way for a much more stronger left block in the state. CPI(ML) State Secretary Ramjatan Sharma said that only a powerful political assertion of agrarian labourers and poor peasants has the potential of defeating feudal-kulak forces, who have maintained their total control over the state power irrespective of the governments, be it Congress rule after the independence or Lalu-Rabri's misrule for the last one and half decades, in Bihar. He emphasised over the fact that Bihar is marching ahead for much bigger mass movements and called upon all left forces to courageously come forward to lead these struggles. He strongly condemned Buta Singh's administration for continuing criminalisation at the behest of Lalu Yadav.
CPI State Secretary Badrinarayan Lal criticized Bihar govt. and ruling parties' politicians for lack of will and administrative callousness and said that such people must not be allowed to plunder the resource rich Bihar . CPI's ex-State Secretary Jalaluddin Ansari criticized CPI(M)'s continuing support to the RJD. Other leaders who addressed the cadre convention were CPI(ML)'s Rameshwar Prasad and Amarjit Kushwaha, CPI's Shivshankar Sharma, and Forward Bloc's Nripen Krishan Mahato and Ramnaresh Singh.
The Convention passed resolutions to demand removal of Buta Singh and his advisor Arun Pathak, to put an end to the criminalisation of politics and immediate arrest of Shahabuddin. Convention also demanded a CBI inquiry into the last year's Paliganj massacre where five CPI(ML) leaders were killed by the goons of PW at the RJD's behest and arrest of criminals who kidnapped and attempted to kill CPI(ML) leader in Chamaparan, Virendra Prasad Gupta. Convention also demanded to implement food-for-work scheme in every district and to stop corruption rampant in this scheme.
CPI(ML) Central Committee member KD Yadav, CPI's ex-State Secretary Jalaluddin Ansari, Forward Bloc's senior leader Ramnaresh Singh and State Secretary of RSP Tarakant Prakash presided over the convention.
CPI(ML) Condemns the Acquittal of Sadhu Yadav
The CPI(ML) has termed as ‘shameful’ the acquittal of Sadhu Yadav, accused of violence against students who were protesting at Bihar Niwas immediately after the JNU students union leader Comrade Chandrashekhar’s murder on March 31, 1997. Following massive protests at that time, the Government had been forced to order a CBI probe into Sadhu Yadav’s assault on students as well as into the murder of Comrade Chandrashekhar. However, 8 years since Chandrashekhar’s murder, the CBI has failed to ensure punishment for his killer Shahabuddin.
On the night of March 31, when JNU students had assembled at Bihar Niwas to demand action against Shahabuddin by the Chief Minister Laloo Yadav, Sadhu Yadav led a pack of RJD goons to attack the students with iron rods and even incited the police to shoot students. Stones were thrown and shots were fired at students and several students and teachers of JNU were injured. These events have been recorded on film and have been widely viewed all over India.
The acquittal of Sadhu Yadav exposes the lax and complicit role of the CBI which has allowed the RJD leader to get away with a crime committed in full public view in front of media cameras. Today, Shahabuddin also runs free, and any DM or SP who orders his arrest is transferred. He still faces two NBWs against him but the police and the governements give him the status of a VIP and he continues to scorn the law by declaring publicly that he will surrender only at his own will.
Note that in 1997 the UF Government ruled at the Centre, of which the RJD was a part – and today again the UPA including the RJD is in power. The people of India and especially the students and youth for whom Chandrashekhar was a model, will never forget or forgive Sadhu Yadav or Shahabuddin.
Employment Guarantee Bill: Partial Victory for Agrarian Labour
The CPI(ML) has termed the tabling of the Employment Guarantee Bill a ‘partial victory for the agricultural labour movement in the country’. It however warned that the experience of land reforms and other pro-poor legislations has shown that these tend to remain on paper, and are implemented only to the extent that people’s pressure is exerted. The experience of the Food for Work schemes – forerunner of the EGA – showed that tractors and contractors tended to dominate the scene, while very little employment and minimum wages actually reached the poor on the ground.
The UPA Government has said that the EGA will be extended to the rest of the country over a period of four years – a statement that shows how little political will and urgency the UPA Government feels towards ending rural unemployment.
The CPI(ML) said that the Employment Guarantee legislation should be seen as a hard-won partial gain of the labour movement, and as a means of intensifying the struggle for employment. The legislation should be seen as a tool for even greater assertion and mobilisation of the rural poor.
Proposed Domestic Violence Bill is Seriously Flawed
The All India Progressive Women's Association has said that the Govt. version of the Domestic Violence Bill was severely flawed and needed to be amended according to the draft prepared by the Lawyers' Committee headed by prominent advocate Indira Jaisingh. Commenting on the Bill, AIPWA felt that the content of the Bill remained biased and the provision of incriminating the daughter-in-law had not been amended. The entire thrust of the Bill should be to positively protect the woman and help her to be able to live independently and without threat of violence.
CPI(ML) Puts Up Parallel Booths for Panchayat Polls in Sonbhadra
CPI(ML) put up dozens of parallel booths for adivasis in Sonbhadra district to enable the schedule tribes of the district to participate in the panchayat polls. It may be known that these adivasis were earlier enlisted as scheduled castes and later their names had been transferred to the ST list but the constituencies reserved for them were not converted into ST constituencies, hence they became deprived of filing nominations for the panchayat polls. In this context CPI(ML) had demanded to allow them for contesting elections. This was accepted by the State Election Commission twice, though at a very late stage, but the DM in Sonbhadra, working as a stooge of Mulayam Singh Yadav, refused to comply with State EC's directives. This attack on democracy has affected lakhs of adivasis living in nearly 141 gram panchayats. In protest, adivasis in Sonbhadra boycotted the 'official' elections and participated in the separate electoral process through the booths set up by the CPI(ML) on 23 and 25 August. Though CPI(ML) District Secretary was arrested on the eve of elections, the adivasis voted en-mass at these booths. On 23 August, during the third phase of polls, 400 votes were cast in the Karhia gram sabha of Myorpur block at CPI(ML)'s booth while only 7 votes were recorded at the government booth.
Consensus a Clever Plea to Defer Women's Bill
The AIPWA has strongly condemned the UPA Govt's clever plea to defer the Women's Reservation Bill in the name of absence of consensus. The UPA is following the NDA line on the crucial issue of Women's political empowerment. No other Bill was a consensus ever needed, which makes it clear that the UPA Govt. has succumbed to patriarchal pressure. The Bill should be passed in its original form through voting.
Convention on 'Land and Liberty ' in Hyderabad
As part of the nationwide campaign against the UPA government’s anti-people and pro-imperialist policies, the AP State Committee held convention on the agenda of land and liberty in Hyderabad on 16 August. The convention saw an encouraging participation of rural activists and reflected the growing influence of the land redistribution movement led by the Party and its agricultural labour wing, AIALA, as well as the expanding contours of Party work in Andhra Pradesh with activists arriving not only from the Party’s traditional pockets in the coastal region but also from Anantapur, a Rayalseema district which witnessed hundreds of suicides.
Among the speakers at the convention were eminent academicians Prof. K Gopal Aiyer and Prof. Hargopal, apart from Comrade Omkar, veteran leader of the historic Telengana movement and senior central leader of the MCPI, and CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and State Secretary N Murthy. Prof. Aiyer estimated that at least another one million acres of land could be made easily available for redistribution if exemptions given to temples and absentee landlords are eliminated. Drawing attention to the dangerous policy of diverting agricultural land in the coastal region for so-called ‘aqua culture’, Prof. Aiyer underlined the importance of coastal Andhra in the present phase of land struggles.
Comrade Murthy placed a written report of the land struggles being waged by the Party in the coastal region and also a report submitted by a Party fact-finding team regarding hundreds of deaths being caused by malaria in the agency areas of Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam. Comrade Omkar welcomed the Party’s initiative and stressed the need for closer cooperation among communist revolutionary organizations around the basic agenda of the people in Andhra Pradesh. Comrade Dipankar called upon the assembled activists to intensify the struggle and emerge as the champion of the rural poor’s quest for land, liberty, social security and dignity. He also appealed to the progressive democratic intelligentsia of Andhra Pradesh to exert greater pressure on the Andhra government and thwart its design to curb democracy and impose the elitist pro-privatization agenda of the World Bank.
AISA Holds March to Parliament Against Dilutions in Employment Guarantee Bill
AISA held a march to Parliament in protest against dilutions in the Bill. Students participating in the March from various campuses raised slogans demanding ‘Universal Employment’ and declaring – ‘UPA Govt Stop Making a Mockery of Employment Guarantee!’ The March also protested against the recent Supreme Court Ruling freeing private educational institutions from the constitutional obligation of fulfilling SC/ST quotas and allowing them to introduce ‘NRI quotas’ instead. The March, colourfully decorated with banners and placards, began from Ramlila Grounds and culminated in a mass meeting at Parliament street.
Addressing the meeting, AISA General Secretary Sunil Yadav said that the Manmohan Singh’s government is also making a mockery of employment guarantee – since its policies of liberalisation are finishing off employment avenues. AISA President Kavita Krishnan said the rural Employment Guarantee Bill tabled by the UPA govt. did not guarantee employment to every adult. It did not even guarantee minimum wages, and it is restricted to a mere 200 districts, with no programme of time bound implementation to the rest of rural India. Rather than ensuring punishment for officials who indulged in scams in the name of employment guarantee, the Bill proposes to punish the poor themselves, by withdrawing funds from regions where scams are reported! Further, by denying complete central govt. funding, the stage is set for scuttling employment guarantee in practice, even after having granted it in theory.
Other speakers condemned the UPA govt.’s silence on the Supreme Court ruling on quotas in private educational institutions, pointing out that this will legitimise discrimination against dalits in education. It is a mockery to allow private schools and colleges to have quotas for rich NRIs but not for the socially weaker sections living in our own country. Students also demanded a judicial inquiry into the police crackdown on the students in Jadavpur University and restoration of Students’ Unions in BHU, Jamia and Bihar . They also accused the UPA of manipulating the CBI to acquit the RJD leader Sadhu Yadav who had assaulted JNU students at Bihar Niwas in 1997 when they protested against Chandrasekhar’s murder.