(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 19, 2010
LDF Govt Take Steps to Protect the Marginalised
IT is a commonplace that the traditional industrial sectors in the state of Kerala are dependent mainly on the underprivileged and vulnerable sections of society. But the erstwhile, Congress led United Democratic Front’s (UDF) government had callously ignored these sections in its policy framework. For example, it went back on the initially declared draft policy for the fisheries sector. The cooperative societies in the fisheries sector had been weakened and devastated. All the welfare schemes had, similarly, suffered as the government was reluctant to collect the exporters’ contributions for the welfare fund. The UDF regime outrageously misused even the fund allocated to rehabilitate the tsunami victims. On the other hand, the UDF government did not hesitate to slash the kerosene ration allocated for the fishing workers.
However, the fisheries sector, which suffered havoc during the UDF regime, has now gained momentum due to the favourable policies of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. At the very outset, the LDF government enacted the far-reaching Fishermen Debt Relief Commission Act for the fishing workers. At the same time, traditional fishing workers were allowed fishing while the government imposed a ban on trawling. (This has been a long pending demand of the fishing community not only in Kerala but in the whole country, but many of the coastal states are yet to concede it.) House loans owed by 10,000 fishing workers were written off and the government spent Rs 12 crore for this purpose. The Matsyafed, a cooperative federation of fishing workers, has also written off the loans owed by fishermen, thus benefiting 50,000 fishermen. The government spent another Rs 27 crore for this purpose. The women engaged in fish vending are being given interest free loans and 27,700 fisherwomen have so far gained from this scheme. The LDF government has allocated Rs 22 crore for this objective. The state government vigorously intervened to ensure the necessary facilities for fishing; for this purpose, it has built numerous fishing harbours and fish landing centres as well as taken measures to upgrade the existing harbours. The government allocated Rs 15 crore to the fishing workers under the housing project and thus 3,000 houses are under construction. Another wide-ranging venture of Rs 325 crore has been executed to rehabilitate the victims of oceanic turbulences and the insurance coverage has been doubled from Rs one lakh to Rs two lakh.
The traditional coir sector in the state was also in a perilous state during the UDF regime. The UDF government had put an end to all the subsidies given to the coir societies. It resulted in utter destruction of the coir cooperatives, and coir workers had to content themselves with a meagre earning of Rs 40 to 50 a day. The UDF’s policy was to encourage the private coir depots that exploited the workers. The Coirfed had become an open den for corruption. But, immediately after it assumed power, the LDF government reinstated the coir rebate and took numerous other measures to protect the coir industry. To facilitate to sale of coir products, a distress purchase scheme has been implemented. The government loans and NCDC loans given to the coir societies were converted into shares and thus the societies gained a support of Rs 53 crore. The coir societies were also granted a working capital of Rs 23 crore. The government loan to the Coirfed of Rs 20 crore and the interest thereupon were also converted into the government’s shares while another Rs 15 crore were granted as the working capital. Under the coir workers’ debt relief scheme, Rs 1.69 crore relief was granted. The minimum wages of coir workers was also increased.
The Cashew Development Corporation remained closed for three and a half years during the UDF regime. Nor did the UDF government do anything to revise the minimum wages for cashew workers. Rather it implemented a commission-based system and thus tried to curtail the rights of these workers. As in the other sectors, its policy was to sabotage the Cashew Development Corporation in order to aid the private sector. However, after coming to power, the LDF government vigorously intervened to protect the cashew workers. The government granted Rs 70 crore to protect the Cashew Development Corporation and took steps to appoint 6,000 more workers. The total workforce in the Kerala State Cashew Workers Apex Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd (CAPEX) has also increased from 3,800 to 6,000. In the CAPEX, 210 and 215 days of work were ensured in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and it was till then the highest record in this regard. In 2009, the Cashew Development Corporation ensured 284 days of work and creatively intervened to expand and promote the cashew industry in the state.
The UDF government had been insensitive and did nothing to resolve the deepening crisis in the sectors like beedi, handloom and plantation. But the LDF government effected numerous measures to protect these sectors. The government rebate for the khadi and handloom products has been restored and steps were taken to ensure a broad market for them. To facilitate an improvement in the handloom products, innovative designs were successfully introduced. A group insurance scheme was introduced for the textile and handloom workers. A monthly pension scheme of Rs 500 was implemented for the beedi workers who wish to retire at the age of 45. The LDF government also made persistent efforts to open the plantations that were closed down during the UDF regime and minimum wages for plantation workers were revised. The Bamboo Corporation has of late registered a steady growth and begun exporting the bamboo products. The Handicrafts Development Corporation and the Artisans’ Development Corporation have evolved into profit making undertakings.
As a part of its neo-liberal agenda, the central government has been forcefully attempting to demolish the public distribution system (PDS). It has defined the poverty line in a most ridiculous way and, on its basis, deceptively ousted numerous deserving households from the below poverty line (BPL) list. Even though the FCI godowns are overflowing with abundant quantities of food grains including wheat and rice, and huge amounts of grains are rotting every year, the central government is not prepared to distribute the same through the PDS. Instead, in contrast, it provides grains to mill owners and traders at quite low rates. In Kerala too, fully in accordance with the Congress policies, the UDF government spent a meagre Rs 35.4 crore for the PDS during its five years tenure. In contrast, the LDF government spent Rs 200 crore during the last year alone. The LDF government has allocated Rs 500 crore during the current fiscal so as to give rice at Rs 2 per kilo to 35 lakh households; moreover, the coverage has of late been increased to 41 lakh families. Further, the LDF government has been effectively intervening in the market through various outlets of the Civil Supplies Corporation, the Consumerfed and the cooperative institutions. Thus, food grains, pulses and cereals are being supplied through the PDS at highly subsidised prices, at only 40 to 70 per cent compared to the market prices. As a result of the government’s vigorous intervention through the PDS, Kerala has emerged as a state with the lowest rate of food inflation.
The erstwhile UDF government had been insensitive to the issues facing the weaker sections in the state. It was not hesitant to shoot down the tribals who were fighting for land. Serious lapses and instances of corruptions were reported in spending the funds allocated for the welfare and progress of the SC/ST communities. The repeated declarations to give land to the tribals remained confined to the paper. But the LDF government put an end to this sad state of affairs and accomplished various projects to ensure the welfare of most marginalised and downtrodden sections of society. While the UDF government spent only 76 per cent of the welfare funds allocated for the SC/ST groups, the LDF government has so far spent more that 90 per cent of the allocation. The lump sum grants, stipends and pocket money given to the SC/ST students have increased by 50 per cent. Mess allowances in the pre-matrics and post-matrics hostels have increased from Rs 500 and 700 to Rs 1,300 to 1,500 respectively. In order to ensure free medical services to all adivasis, the government has started a health care scheme for them. Kerala has become the first state to implement the Tribal Rights Act and 7,900 acres of land were distributed among 7,882 tribal families. Another 24.85 hectares of land were given to the 7,826 ST households. In order to implement the Paloli committee recommendations based on the Sachar Committee findings, Rs 10 crore have been allocated as an initial grant during the current fiscal alone. Additional posts have been created for the differently abled persons and special recruitments have been made. Their pension amount has also been increased.
ON THE MARGINALISED
As part of its target to ensure gender justice, the LDF government deals with the women question with utmost care and concern. A policy has been formulated for women in Kerala and gender auditing implemented. During the current fiscal alone, the LDF government has allocated Rs 620 crore to ensure gender parity. The state is the first to guarantee 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies.
The LDF government has created a special fund of Rs 100 crore to protect the environment and evolved a novel perception on the question.
The UDF government policy was to dismantle the social welfare schemes and withdraw from the social sector as part of the neo-liberal policy framework. All the welfare pensions and government grants remained unpaid and led to long pending dues. Unemployment allowances, pensions of agricultural workers, cashew and handloom workers --- all remained unpaid and amounted to a due of Rs 302 crore. But the LDF government intervened in this situation with its alternative policy and disbursed all the welfare pensions unpaid by the UDF government. Furthermore, all welfare pensions have been increased from Rs 110 to 300. At the same time, all members of the BPL families who are above 65 years of age and are not covered by any of the welfare pensions, were awarded Rs 100 as old age allowance. To facilitate the welfare of the non-resident Keralites, the LDF government set up a welfare board recently while a welfare scheme has been put into effect for non-Keralite workers also. Minimum wages have been increased for the workers in various sectors.
It is the communist movement that freed the downtrodden sections from the clutches of feudalism. But the same sections are now confronted with severe attacks due to the neo-liberal policies, which have added to their utter marginalisation and are also closing for them the avenues of development. However, the LDF government has reversed the UDF policies and positioned the marginalised sections at the centre of all its development and progress schemes. (To be continued.)