(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 09, 2011
Convention Demands right to Food,
Social Security, Employment
ON December 19, the Delhi state committees of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Janwadi Mahila Samiti (JMS, affiliated to the All India Democratic Women’s Association) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) organised a joint convention at B T Ranadive Bhawan on food security, social security and employment needs in Delhi, with special focus on the plight of unorganised sector workers.
A presidium comprising CITU state secretary Mohan Lal, AIDWA state president Sonia Verma and DYFI state president Ravinder conducted the programme. A three-page resolution was distributed among the delegates for discussion.
Mohan Lal explained the disastrous impact of neo-liberal economic policies on the working classes of Delhi. Large textiles mills like Birla Textiles, DCM, Swatantra Bharat Mill etc, which employed tens of thousands of workers, were closed during the 1990s, followed by thousands of others between 1995 and 2005 in the name of industrial pollution. Lakhs of workers were either forced to migrate to the neighbouring areas in the National Capital Region (NCR) or take up work as street vendors, rickshaw pullers, construction workers, etc. Women too were compelled to work as domestic help or home-based piece rate workers. By now the employment of contractual labour, daily wager, piece rate workers and casual workers has become the norm in private as well as government sector like hospitals, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Delhi Jal Board (DJB), educational institutions, schools, colleges, universities and security services. Labour laws are being openly flouted in both private as well as government sector. In this overall backdrop, food, social security and employment are among the most important issues before the urban poor today. That is why the three organisations have organised this joint convention in order to intensify the struggle to ensure some relief for the very survival of the working classes of Delhi.
Anurag Sexena from the CITU spoke on the right to food security. He emphasised how neo-liberal policies have resulted in food insecurity. The food security bill being discussed at the level of the UPA’s National Advisory Council is in itself an admission of the failure of targeted public distribution system (TPDS) started in 1997. in the name of checking pilferage and corruption, the proposal for direct cash-transfer by the Delhi chief minister was misleading and would lead to further inflation. He elaborated how the Delhi government spends nothing extra on the public distribution system (PDS) beyond the central foodgrain allocation. The meagre amount of Rs 1.6 crore spent by it barely covers the cost of transportation of ration.
Since 2008, the government of Delhi started the ‘mission convergence’ and undertook a door-to-door survey to identify the ‘vulnerable’ (below poverty line, BPL) and ‘most vulnerable’ (Antyodaya) households of Delhi on the basis of a residential, social and occupational vulnerability index. The results of the survey carried out in notified and non-notified slums, unauthorised colonies and resettlement colonies have not been made public, but gross figures reveal that around 50 lakh ‘vulnerable’ people reside in Delhi. So, even by its own estimate, the government should provide over 10 lakh BPL ration cards as compared to just 4.18 lakh ration cards issued till date (2.89 lakh BPL and 1.29 lakh Antyodaya). He demanded that the government stop suppressing the actual figures of vulnerable households in Delhi, provide BPL ration cards to all the identified families and include more vulnerable categories which were not covered under the survey.
Albeena Shakil from the JMS spoke on the right to social security. She emphasised that in today’s context it was difficult for a single organisation to fight the onslaught of these disastrous policies and achieve a dignified life for a common citizen. These policies have resulted in total withdrawal of social security for ordinary citizens who are being forced into irregular work. Women have also joined the workforce in large numbers. She cited the findings of the JMS survey conducted in 2008 among home-based women workers of Delhi who are paid a meagre amount of Rs 15 to Rs 20 after a day’s work and are not even recognised as workers. This is the darkest aspect of the neo-liberal policies. strong unity among various sections of society and their joint struggle alone can guarantee that even the meagre provisions of social security envisaged in the act passed by the parliament in 2008 for unorganised sector workers are implemented. She demanded that the rules of this act must be framed without delay and that the Delhi government must constitute a state level board for devising and implementing the social security schemes. She gave the example of the provident fund PF scheme started by the governments of West Bengal and Tripura, wherein the contribution of an unorganised sector worker was Re 1 per day and the government was contributing an equal amount. She asked: Why can’t the government of Delhi implement a similar scheme in Delhi?
Puran Chand from the DYFI spoke on the right to employment for urban youth. Placing the figures of employment generation from 1991 to 2005, he highlighted how the neo-liberal policies have resulted in jobless growth. The hallmark of these polices is that for the working people the service conditions have become more difficult with less wages. The safety and security of the young women working in BPOs and call centres is in peril.
The speaker also informed that more than five lakh youth with their names registered in the employment exchange in Delhi have got no call letters. In fact, the promise of providing jobs has become a major job by itself. Private placement cells have opened shop in large numbers, charging exorbitant fees from job seekers. Many indulge in cheating and exploit the youth. With government employment offices becoming useless, the youth are at the mercy of these placement cells. He therefore demanded revival of the employment exchanges, covering both government as well as private sector jobs in the city. He strongly demanded enactment of an urban employment guarantee act for the urban youth on the lines of the NREGA, as promised by the UPA government.
A total of 275 delegates participated in the convention. These included small vendors, cycle rickshaw pullers, construction workers, daily wagers, loaders, home based-women workers etc. Enthusiastic group discussions were held in each mass organisation for one hour. After the lunch, 15 delegates took part in the discussion and narrated their appalling life experiences.
Rita, from JMS, living in the unauthorised colony of Sangam Vihar and a holder of Antyodaya ration card, complained that the ration shop owner does not open ration shop on all days. They are not given full 35 kg of rice and wheat. She works as a piece rate embroidery worker from her home and, after working for eight hours, gets only Rs 15 to 20 a day. Another woman, Sanjida from Old Delhi, narrated that her husband’s two wheeler repair shop was sealed by the MCD, which has made their life miserable. She also works on piece-rate, putting springs in diaries, for which she gets only Rs 20 to 25 after a full day’s work along with her family members.
Subir Banerjee from DYFI, residing in South-West Delhi, asked why around 1,50,000 vacancies in the railways are not being filled. Similarly, 45,000 to 50,000 vacancies in banks need to be filled but there is no serious effort on part of the government. Rather, the work is being outsourced and the same work is being done through contract workers or daily wagers. He demanded that loan procurement and associated processes be simplified for self-employment purposes.
Prem from the CITU, who is a leader of vendors, narrated how the contribution of rehri-patti walas is much more than that of factory owners in the GDP of the state. Yet, they are continuously neglected by the state. They are not even entitled for BPL ration cards. The Supreme Court has clearly asked the city authorities to recognise their work, as envisaged in the constitution of India, and issue tehbazari licenses to up to 2.5 per cent of the city population. But they are being continuously harassed by city police as well as municipal authorities. He demanded the provision of health and pension benefits for more than five lakh people working in this profession.
Vikramjeet from the Central Ware Housing Corporation, who has been working for more than 12 years as a daily wager, narrated how their prolonged struggle forced their contractor to implement the minimum wages, ESI and PF facilities since 2007.
At the end of the convention, Mohan Lal reiterated the demands of the convention and presented the struggle programme for the coming months. Delegates passed the resolution unanimously with the resolve to win the following demands from the government:
1) Issue BPL and Antyodaya ration cards to the families identified in the Mission Convergence as vulnerable and most vulnerable sections of Delhi.
2) Register all the unorganised sector workers on the basis of self-declaration and issue them identity cards/smart cards.
3) Constitute a state level welfare board for enacting social security and welfare schemes.
4) Provide pension, health insurance, maternity benefits, provident fund, housing and educational facilities to all the unorganised sector workers.
5) Enact an urban employment guarantee act for the urban youth and implement it without delay.
6) Modernise the employment offices, link them with skill development programmes and provide employment news of the private sector. Simplify the process of loan procurement for self-employment and provide unemployment wages to the registered unemployed.
The convention decided that a joint memorandum would be submitted to the Delhi government in this regard in January and a massive procession would be held on April after statewide independent and joint campaigns by the CITU, JMS and DYFI.