People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 15

April 11, 2010

Editorial

HISTORIC PROTEST AGAINST PRICE RISE

 

Struggle Will Continue

 

APRIL 8, 2010 will go down in history as one of the biggest protest actions organised in recent memory.  Tens of lakhs of people, at the call of the Left parties, participated in civil disobedience programmes all across the country.  Lakhs were arrested as they  deliberately violated the law angrily and militantly to protest against the neo-liberal economic policies of the UPA-2 government that were imposing unprecedented economic burdens on the vast mass of our people.  The focus of these protest actions was against the unbridled continuous rise in the prices of all essential commodities which is eroding their livelihood.  This comes on the top of the agonies imposed by the impact of the global recession which has led to the loss of a decent livelihood for over a crore of people.  

At the call of the Left parties, these volunteers of the civil disobedience movement demanded, amongst others, the universalisation of the public distribution system; a ban on all speculative futures/forward trading in essential commodities; release of the excess buffer stock of rice and wheat lying in the central government godowns (as against the required norm of 200 lakh tones of buffer stock, the government has 474.65 lakh tones); a roll back of the hike in the prices of petroleum products announced in the recent budget;  and stringent action against black marketeers and hoarders.  Far from accepting these demands, the central government has been brazenly defending its anti-people decisions  and refusing to accept  the growing misery of the vast mass of our people. 

A unique justification of the government’s approach was advanced by the union home minister who attacked the Left parties saying that they were deliberately distorting the existing realities of greater burdens on the people. In particular, he questioned the Left parties for stating that 77 per cent of our people are living on less than Rs 20 a day.  The Left parties were only quoting the estimates of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector  (NCEUS) about the number of people (836 million or 77 per cent of the population) at the end of 2004-2005 living below Rs 20 per day. The chairman of the NCEUS has since clarified that these numbers were not invented by the NCEUS but were derived from published household data of consumption by National Sample Survey (NSS). All the NCEUS did was to divide the country in terms of per capita consumption into six groups:  extremely poor – upto 0.75 per cent of poverty line (PL); poor (0.7 per cent to 1 PL; marginally poor (1 to 1.25 PL); vulnerable (1.25-2 PL); middle income (2-4 PL); high income (above 4 PL)

Neither did the NCEUS invent any new poverty line. It used the official poverty line (which is grossly inadequate) as a benchmark to classify the categories of poor, only to make the data comparable over a period, for three different years of NSS survey — 1993-1994, 1999-2000 and 2004-2006.

According to that exercise in 2004-2005, the absolute number of people in category one of “extremely poor” was 70 million. In the second category of “poor”, the numbers were 167 million in 2004-2005. Taken together people below the official poverty were 237 million.

But for the next two groups, “marginally poor” and “vulnerable”, the numbers were a staggering 599 million in 2004-2005. The average per capita consumption of the fourth group, described as “vulnerable” was Rs 20 per day, which was highest among all the four groups “extremely poor”, “poor”, “marginally poor” and “vulnerable”. That is how the NCEUS calculated that 836 million (77 per cent of the population) were living below Rs 20 per day.

The Chairman of the NCEUS has since stated, “Effectively it makes clear that in spite of 10 years of high economic growth after the reforms of the earlier 90s, roughly 77 per cent of the population do not live on more than Rs 20 per day.”


There are two other major findings of the NCEUS that have not attracted much public notice. First, those groups of people, from “poor” to “vulnerable”, also account for the most socially-discriminated and disadvantaged group of the country — 87.8 per cent of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) belong to this group, 85 per cent of all Muslims and 77.9 per cent of all Other Backward Classes, except Muslims, belong to these groups.

Further, most of the people from “poor” and “vulnerable” are not employable — 86 per cent of India’s illiterate belong to these groups as also 78.6 per cent of people with education only up to the primary level. As a result most of these people earn their living as informal workers with no security of jobs, wages, health or insurance against vulnerabilities.

In contrast, the 2009 Forbes’ India Rich (November 19, 2009 report) shows that the number of billionaires (in US dollar terms) in India nearly doubled to 52 in 2009 and their combined net worth reached $ 276 billion or a quarter of the country’s GDP.  That they made these riches when the global economy was in a severe recession, when more than three-fourths of the Indian people were groaning under economic agonies, speaks volumes of the class nature of the stimulus packages and other concessions being given to the rich at the expense of the poor in the name of combating recession. 

This is nothing but a resounding reconfirmation, if any such reconfirmation were ever necessary, that the neo-liberal trajectory is leading not merely to the creation but to the  widening of the hiatus between the `shining’ and the `suffering’ India. 

April 8 marks only the beginning of such popular mobilisations and protest actions against this trajectory of economic reforms.  As we go to press, the leaders of the Left parties and other secular opposition parties are meeting to chalk out the future course of popular protest actions against these anti-people policies of this UPA-2 government.