IT is to highlight the issues of crores of workers, peasants, agricultural workers, artisans and other toiling people, to emphatically voice their demands for better work, better working conditions, better lives and better future for their children, that CITU, AIKS and AIAWU have jointly called the ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ on September 5, 2018 before the parliament. It is to create the confidence among these sections that it is not necessary for them to lead such miserable lives; the confidence that together they can fight and achieve better lives, decent and dignified working and living conditions. The country has the resources. It needs alternative policies. This ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ is to say: NO to the governments that work for the 0.1%. It is to demand policies that benefit the 99.9%. Below we publish some of the issues raised by the rally.
The Narendra Modi government claims to be ‘nationalist’ and ‘patriotic’ but it has set a record for sale of national public assets to private tycoons. In four years of its rule, it has sold off a staggering Rs 1.96 lakh crore worth of public sector assets, according to government statistics.
But this is not all. They are also trying to sell off mineral resources, land, rivers and lakes, forests and even government schools, health centres and hospitals, to private companies in the name of Public Private Participation (PPP). From defence production to oil production, from medicines to school education – everything is fast turning into privately owned profit making enterprise. Such is their commitment to helping the private corporate class that even historical monuments are being handed over to companies for so called ‘maintenance’! Never before has any country seen so much talk of ‘nationalism’ and ‘Motherland’ accompanied by shameless sale of the same motherland to profiteers, both domestic and foreign.
This privatisation drive is accompanied by touting India’s workers, particularly the young workers, as another commodity that is cheaply available for the same profit hungry corporates. Through their ‘Make in India’ world tours, Modi and his ministers have been trying to convince global capitalists to invest in India as cheap Indian labour will boost their profits!
SALE OF PUBLIC SECTOR
Selling off public sector units to private sector for cheap prices is a well-established policy of all neo-liberal regimes. The preceding Congress-led UPA government had in its ten years of rule sold off some Rs 1.08 lakh crore worth of public sector assets. But this policy has been taken to a new level by Modi sarkar. It has sold off more than what the Congress did in 10 years.
India’s central public sector enterprises have gross assets worth over Rs 2 lakh crore, employ over 12.3 lakh workers and had a total declared dividend of over Rs 7095 crore in 2015-16, according to government reports. They are a bulwark for the country’s self-reliant economy. The profits generated by these enterprises are used by the government for public benefit. Once they become private, all the profits will simply disappear in the pockets of big corporates.
Besides these enterprises, the government is also selling off shares of public sector banks and insurance companies which together employ close to 15 lakh employees. Such dilution will not only allow foreign companies to grab shares of highly profitable government companies. It will also lead to job losses. This is in addition to permission to private (including foreign) banks and insurance companies to operate in the country that was given earlier under the UPA regime.
Selling off public sector shares (or outright sale) has various implications for the people of the country. It means that private companies start sucking out profits through the functioning of the industrial units they acquire. Till now, these units have been contributing to the country’s good through their earnings. Private corporates, as we all know, will do no more than fill up their own pockets.
But there is more. Public sector was also set up in key strategic sectors because the country’s sovereignty needed to be protected. For example, in defence production, can you allow private companies like Reliance to take over, in collaboration with foreign companies? Will this not endanger the country’s independence and self-reliance?
Then there is the important question of employment and other public policy needs. The public sector not only gives employment to a large number of people but also provides much better wages, social security and other benefits than the private sector. It also follows the constitutional mandate for reservation to SC/STs. All of this goes out of the window once the unit is privatised.
There is no real economic or management related reason for disinvestment of public sector. So why is the BJP government led by Modi bent upon pushing it? The answer is two-fold. One, the government gets a whole lot of money with which it pads up its treasury. This is a desperate conspiracy of the government because it has been unable to foster healthy industrial growth, or create jobs. Agriculture continues to be in crisis. Policies like demonetisation and GST have further ruined the economy. The BJP led Modi government thinks that it can tide over this all round crisis by generating revenue through sale of public sector.
Second, the Modi government is brazenly committed to the wellbeing and prosperity of the big industrialist class – whether domestic or foreign. The prime minister might be talking many things about the welfare of the poor. But the acts of his government are aimed at robbing the poor to serve the corporate class. It is handing over large chunks of people’s property – built over the years through public money – to these corporate houses to make profit. ‘Nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are just for the consumption of common people, so that they forget about all the distress caused by the government.
It is not just the public sector enterprises that are being sold off to private hands. A quick look around the country will show that practically everything that the government owns – or should be running – is up for sale. From water to mineral resources, from roads and bridges to ports and docks, from schools and colleges to hospitals and dispensaries, everything that should be and has been till recently a government function, is being handed over to the private sector.
The Modi government has pushed ahead with privatising the exploitation of several natural resources of the country ranging from ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, coal, oil and gas, to forests, water bodies and of course power production including hydro-power. Huge profit making public sector bodies like Coal India and National Hydro-Power Corporation (NHPC) are being squeezed out by privatisation. Coal mines have been allowed to be owned and exploited by greedy private companies, which take away profits, convert regular jobs to casual and contractual jobs, violate environmental laws and indiscriminately displace people in order to expand their profits.
Oil and gas fields have already been sold off to big corporates like Reliance by the earlier regime and the Modi government continues to push this anti-national policy further. Last year it was proposed that 18 percent of stake in ONGC will be sold off potentially getting the government Rs 41,000 crore.
Since the BJP government led by Modi took over, 56,069.37 hectares of forest land has been diverted for projects. Not satisfied with this, the new forest policy proposes to ‘develop’ forest lands through a public-private partnership (PPP) model which essentially means letting private contractors and real estate developers to grab forest land. The destruction of forests would follow. There is even a proposal to lease out rivers and lakes/ponds to private companies so that they can ‘maintain’ and ‘develop’ them!
SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
Take the example of elementary schools (class 1 to 8). The government schools are being starved of funds. Lakhs of teachers’ posts are kept vacant. As a result, there is a decline in the quality of education. About 1 lakh government schools have been closed down by various state governments. Private schools are being given free hand; conditions for opening such ‘teaching shops’ are being relaxed. As a result, between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of students in these classes studying in government schools went down by about 10 percent while those studying in private schools shot up by 26 percent! Fees in private schools are sky high. But parents are compelled to send their children to these schools because they want them to get better education. In higher education, the share of students studying in private colleges has increased from 61 percent in 2010-11 to 67 percent in 2015-16, with parallel decline in government colleges.
Hospitals and health centres too have gone down a similar path. Services like medical tests are outsourced by government hospitals to private labs. Patients are forced to buy expensive medicines from private establishments. On the one hand, the government system from primary health centres to tertiary hospitals is made to suffer because of lack of equipment, infrastructure and personnel (including doctors). On the other, more and more private corporate hospitals are encouraged by providing lots of concessions including cheap land. They charge exorbitant fees and are completely out of bounds for the common people. Just as in schools and colleges, people are forced to go to private hospitals because government hospitals lack the necessary infrastructure and staff to satisfy their needs.
The Modi government has in fact gone another step and declared that they will be forcing an insurance based healthcare system on the country. Giving up government’s responsibility of providing free and comprehensive healthcare to people, the government is promoting this insurance based model. So, who will benefit from this scheme? Naturally, it is the insurance companies, with crores of rupees flowing into their coffers! Many private insurance companies have entered in the health insurance business. This is also a way of privatising what was essentially a duty of the government – to provide healthcare facilities to all.
RAILWAYS TO RED FORT
The cunning brains that are at work advising Modi Sarkar are busy devising ways of generating profits for private companies. They are determined to do this totally unmindful of the burdens on the people or the impact on our rich architectural heritage. For instance 23 major railway stations are set to be privatised. Private companies will manage these stations and in return they will get full rights to use the space for their promotion, rent out shops and other services, etc. The government has already approved Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in building railway infrastructure.
Another example is the decision to handover the maintenance and management of monuments like the Red Fort and Taj Mahal to private companies. Delhi’s famous Red Fort and the Golconda Fort in Telangana have been handed over to Dalmia business group despite objections from prominent historians and archaeologists. Can’t the government, so outspoken about ‘nationalism’ maintain the Red Fort, the symbol of our First War of Independence, the place from where the prime minister of the country unfurls the national flag on Independence Day every year?
These measures are a part of the neoliberal policies; this is where neoliberalism leads to. This has to be stopped. This can be stopped. It is only the working class, together with other sections of the toiling people who can stop this.
We want the government to
- Stop privatisation; strengthen public sector; develop self reliant economy
- Strengthen public education; increase public expenditure on education to 6 percent of GDP; improve infrastructure in government schools
- Strengthen public health services; increase public expenditure on health to 5 percent of GDP; improve infrastructure, provide all necessary equipment, staff, medicines etc in community health centres, primary health centres etc; ensure accessible effective, timely health care for all including the adivasis in the remotest corners of the country
- Fill up all vacant teachers’ posts in all departments, including in all government educational institutions, government hospitals and health centres
This is possible. We have adequate resources – financial and human. The government has to define its priorities – the people or the corporates? Stop giving huge tax and other concessions to the big domestic and foreign corporates, to the tune of over Rs 5 lakh crore every year; ensure the over Rs 7 lakh crore of legally due taxes evaded by the rich are collected; ensure the over Rs 12 lakh crore of unpaid bank loans, mostly by the big corporates are repaid, take strict action against defaulters.
However, the political parties supporting neoliberalism have never been serious in implementing these alternative policies. It is only the Left parties which have been raising these demands, which have been supporting the struggles on these demands, which have been trying to implement them, within the serious constraints, in the states where they have been in power.
Let us defeat the neoliberal regime; Let us fight for alternative pro-worker, pro- people policies. The ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ before parliament on September 5 is to raise our voice against these policies.
Let us Unite! Fight!
- No to governments that work for the 0.1%
- For policies that benefit the 99.9%