People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 24, 2006
CPI(M) MP Moves Agricultural Workers Welfare Bill
WITH successive central governments dragging their feet on enacting a comprehensive legislation for the welfare of the over 10 crore agricultural labour in the country, the CPI(M) once again focussed this issue in parliament. Senior Lok Sabha member Hannan Mollah moved a private member bill to provide for the welfare of agricultural workers, to regulate their employment and conditions of service. In this era of globalisation, the agricultural workers who are the marginalised sections in the society – the poorest of the poor – are suffering the most. There is no legal protection for them despite 60 years of our independence, he lamented. There is no Act for the agricultural workers of our country.
The agricultural workers are the single largest working force in the country residing in rural areas. Till date, there is no uniform Act in the entire country about their wage, about their hours of work, about their conditions of work, about their accident benefits, about the maternity benefits for the women workers and about their social security measures. They are a deprived lot, living below the poverty line. A majority of them belong to the scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes, the minorities and the most backward classes. They are the most downtrodden and neglected sections of our population.
Giving the background to his moving the bill, Hannan Mollah said the democratic movement in the country has been pressing for a central Act for the agricultural labourers for several years. The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) has been raising the demand for a comprehensive central legislation to protect these workers for the last 25 to 30 years. The Left-led government in Kerala in 1974 first enacted such a law because of which the agricultural workers in that state are today in a better position as compared to other parts of the country. There was a big demand that a central Act be passed on the pattern of the Kerala Act. Later, a Central Standing committee on rural and unorganised labour was set up in 1978 which formed a sub-committee to suggest the framework for a central bill. The sub-committee drafted the bill on Kerala model and circulated it in the Labour Ministers’ Conference in 1981. Since they could not arrive at an agreement, the matter remained pending. But in 1982, all the state governments were advised by the central government to pass such a law. Only the Tripura government had passed such a law in 1986. Except for Kerala and Tripura, no state has such a law so far. In 1987, a National Commission on Rural Labour was set up, which also recommended for a comprehensive central legislation.
Hannan Mollah observed that earlier the labour ministers at least called a meeting of the organisations and unions of agricultural labourers and discussed that such a law is required. But the NDA government felt that the agricultural workers in India were in a better position and hence do not need a central legislation. For the first time, the central government felt that legislation was not required. When the UPA government came into office, the CPI(M) and other Left parties insisted enactment of a central Act for agricultural workers be included in the Common Minimum Programme and it was accepted.
However the government has been dragging its feet and Hannan Mollah moved this bill in such a context. The bill was formulated basing on the suggestions of several sub-committees. It includes –– providing a basic framework for improving the working conditions, social security benefits, mechanism for resolving disputes, old-age pension, maternity benefits for women workers, equal wage for equal work, facility of accident benefits, system of fixing minimum wage and its timely revision linked to consumer price index, providing subsidised ration, a watchdog committee at the block, district and state level to be formed to oversee the implementation of this law, etc.
Hannan Mollah has suggested that all the agricultural labourers be registered to start with. They should be registered block-wise and panchayat-wise and their names should be available on record. Based on the registration they can be given work. That kind of registration will guarantee work for the people and they will not have to migrate to other places for work. If a person is a permanent worker in an area, he should be given preference and given work from either the block-level list or panchayat-level list. Those who have been working consecutively for three years should be given preference employment in the rural areas. He has suggested that for settling disputes, there should be a conciliation officer. If the dispute is not settled at this level, it should be referred to the district collector and then later to a tribunal. The tribunal will give the final judgment and that would be binding on all.
He has also suggested launching of a scheme called the ‘Agricultural Workers Welfare Fund Scheme’. Funds of the scheme would be controlled and managed by the Agricultural Welfare Board. A provision should also be included for providing this scheme in the Act, he said. Contributions for the welfare fund may be from the government, landowner and agricultural labourers. Details of the Board should be spelt out in the Act, he felt. Fixed hours of work and wages for overtime also have to be mentioned in the Act. A provision for penalty measures in case of violations should be incorporated also covering those who make false statements or breach the settlement awards, etc.
The national-level bill moved by Hannan Mollah was drafted on the lines of the Acts prevalent in Kerala and Tripura. The bill stipulates creation of a corpus of funds by the central government as the state governments, which will be primarily responsible for implementation, are short of funds. This corpus would help meet the recurring expenditure, said Hannan Mollah.
“Earlier 100 to 150 days of work was available for the agricultural labourers. Now, the agricultural workers are not even getting work for more than 50 to 70 days. How will they live for 365 days when they get income for just 70 days work? This is a very serious situation. Hence, the government should give serious thought about this aspect. I commend this bill to this House, to discuss and consider it; and I appeal to the House that it may be passed” so saying concluded Hannan Mollah. (INN)