The fight for survival

Published : Dec 09, 2000 00:00 IST

Amid all the talk of environmental issues, planning priorities and relocation processes, the interests and concerns of the ordinary worker seem to receive the least priority.

IN the second week of November, the National Capital Territory witnessed industrial turmoil and social unrest on an unprecedented scale following the Supreme Court's notice to Delhi Chief Secretary P.S. Bhatnagar warning of contempt proceedings for non-c ompliance with its directives regarding the closure and relocation of polluting industrial units. The proliferation of these units in the "non-conforming" or residential zones violated the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD). The Delhi State government in a knee- jerk reaction to the court's strictures, had issued orders to all such units to close down and relocate immediately. With no immediate relocation plans on the board, it disconnected water and electricity supply to these industries.

According to estimates the State government submitted before the court, there are 1,26,218 small-scale industries (SSIs) in Delhi, of which 97,411 are located in the non-conforming areas. Of these, 2,224 are stated to be polluting, and these have been sh ut down. Some 20 lakh workers are estimated to be employed in the SSIs and tiny units.

As was to be expected, the owners and workers of the SSIs, who faced the prospect of loss of livelihood, took to the streets, bringing road traffic to a halt. As the rampaging mob began burning government-owned buses, the police resorted to several round s of firing. Three persons were killed and several others injured. There was no let-up in the fury for some days. On November 20, owners of the industrial units called a Delhi bandh, which was supported by all trade unions.

The unions, meanwhile, launched independent action in various parts of Delhi. In a rare occurrence, workers and owners came together on a common platform, even as a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, hearing the case of polluting units, held that ho oligans were holding the city to ransom. In the discourse on pollution and relocation of industrial units, the case of thousands of workers in the unorganised sector was being overlooked. In the majority of cases, the owners did not even pay them minimum wages, leave alone other benefits.

While a sparring match was on involving former BJP Chief Ministers of Delhi Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma and Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, Union Urban Development Minister Jagmohan declared in Parliament that the MPD could not be amended to all ow the industrial units to remain within residential areas. He admitted that exact figures were not available on their total number, leave alone the polluting ones, as no proper survey had been undertaken. Jagmohan, however, climbed down from this positi on later at the urging of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. The intervention probably became necessary as the difference of opinion within the BJP was getting louder. Khurana even threatened to launch an agitation, ostensibly to protect the interests of the affected people.

However, the lines on which the amendments to the MPD will be made are not known. It was decided that "household industry" would be redefined as that involving the use of 5 kW power load, but the SSI unions argued that such power levels were not enough t o run even a wheat grinding machine.

The Laghu Udyog Sangharsh Samiti, representing the owners of SSI units, has demanded provisions to allow three kinds of zones - purely residential, industrial and mixed-use where industries have co-existed with homes for three decades. The unions, especi ally the Left unions, which have opposed the uprooting of the workers, have demanded a survey to identify the industrial units and the number of workers employed in them.

A NEW MPD is to replace the present one, which expires in March 2001, but there is no clue as to what will happen to the units and their workers.

The MPD, the amendment of which is a bone of contention between the Delhi government and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, has a controversial background, characterised by the questionable role played by the previous Delh i governments. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), constituted in 1957 by an Act of Parliament "to check the haphazard and unplanned growth of Delhi....", developed the first Master Plan in 1962. Some 8,000 industries were identified then and several new industrial areas were announced. By 1971, the number of non-conforming industries had increased to 13,000. Between 1971 and 1982, when the new Master Plan was to come into force, many unauthorised colonies came up, but they were regularised for polit ical and other reasons, and resettlement colonies were established on the edges of the city to accommodate squatter families. Much of the resettlement took place during Congress(I) rule. The new Master Plan did not materialise, while the provisions of th e old Master Plan were flouted. The aftermath of the Asiad Games in 1982 saw the construction of building complexes as well as flyovers in contravention of the Master Plan.

The draft of the second Master Plan came up for public discussion that year. The first plan was criticised and the Delhi Urban Arts Commission was asked to prepare another plan, called the Delhi Master Plan-2001. The plan came into effect only in 1991.

According to DMP-2001, in 1981 there were about 46,000 industrial units, of which 77 per cent had fewer than 10 workers and 16 per cent had between 10 and 20 workers. It was estimated that by 2001 the number of units would increase to 93,000. It noted th at the percentage share of workers in the industrial sector among the total workforce had constantly increased and a considerable change had taken place in the industrial structure in the last three decades, more so after 1975. Two kinds of industries gr ew rapidly - those involving electrical and electronics goods and those involving rubber, plastic and petroleum products.

A large number of existing units were non-conforming ones. Several recommendations were made to shift them and the Plan was categorical that hazardous units would not be permitted in Delhi. According to the plan, no new extensive units were to be permitt ed except in already identified industrial areas, and existing non-conforming extensive units would be shifted to the 'extensive industrial use zone' within three years of the allotment of plots.

The same rule was applied to non-conforming light and service industries employing 20 or more workers. Incentives, apart from plots, were also offered. However, those units with 10 to 19 workers could continue to operate in their existing locations but t hey would be subject to review after five years, before which they could relocate to industrial use zones. The MPD permitted household-based industrial units with a maximum of five workers and using 1 kW of power to continue in residential areas and new units in residential areas, with the caveat that no polluting unit would be permitted in the "household industry" category.

A category of hazardous industries was drawn up in 1991, and in 1995 only 1,220 units were identified as being hazardous. However, the Central Pollution Control Board issued notice to 9,164 units to show cause why they should not be asked to be shifted f rom Delhi. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee scaled down the figure to 171. The list grew to 1,226, and all the units were served notice. Finally, in 1996, only 168 units were identified as hazardous, and the Supreme Court ordered their removal. At t he same time, a high-power committee was set up by the court to consider the matter of regularisation of industries in non-conforming areas. Of the 43,405 applications received, only 376 were found to be eligible and the rest had to move out. Application s for relocation were invited and 51,846 applications were received. Of these, 22,399 were short-listed by the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation, and it received advance payments.

Till date, there are no accurate figures of the number of industrial units in the non-conforming areas or the number of workers employed in them. Delhi's Industry Minister Narinder Nath admitted that no proper survey had been done. In order to obtain acc urate details, the Delhi Assembly passed an Act recently making it mandatory for industries to register themselves. Whether it would be mandatory for employers to give the details about their workers and the wages paid was not known, although the Ministe r said these details would be ascertained.

While the water-polluting industrial units were to be relocated at Narela, another outlying area in North Delhi, Bawana, was the identified for relocation of non-water polluting units. A new industrial area was developed on 1,065 acres of land, which was hardly adequate to accommodate all the industries. The units were offered incentives to move to areas falling in the National Capital Region, located in the adjoining States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

MPD-2001 faulted the 1962 Master Plan for not proposing a monitoring system to register the changing socio-economic profile of the community as well as the physical structure of the city, for certain other reasons. The absence of such a framework had led to unintended growth, in the form of unauthorised colonies, squatter settlements, the informal sector and the non-conforming industry, all of which needed to be monitored. It was forgotten that government agencies, such as the Municipal Corporation of D elhi, had issued licences to the majority of these units and many of them were paying sales tax.

The anger of the factory owners was therefore palpable. Nand Kumar, owner of Mahajan Metals, a water-polluting unit that made aluminium vessels, was agitated that despite installing an effluent treatment plant the authorities had sealed his factory. The majority of his workers came from Bihar. "They have not given us the plots. They talk as if a ready-made building is going to be shifted to the new site in Narela," he said. By December 31, all water-polluting units have to pay for the plots as the Delhi government intends to shift such industries first. Their licences were renewed six months ago and subsequently cancelled following the crackdown on the units. "We do not know if we will take back the workers. The authorities have not even asked us to pr ovide a list of employees," he said.

In the entire debate on relocation, the blame continued to be traded. If MPD-2001 blamed the previous Plan for not taking into account the proliferation of industries, the Congress(I) and the BJP accused each other of non-implementation of the court's or ders. Narinder Nath averred that there was not enough land for all industries to shift. While 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) were required, the Delhi government acquired only 1,800 acres of undeveloped land. Further, village people in the vicinity of the n ew industrial zones could resist the move.

The BJP claimed that the land had been acquired during the tenure of Sahib Singh Verma. The Congress(I) argued that as the DDA, the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and the MCD to a large extent were under Central government control, the Delhi government did not have the sanction or authority to conduct any development work on the land to begin the process of relocation.

According to Dunu Roy, director of Hazards Centre, a technical support group for community and mass organisations, the concept of non-conforming vis-a-vis conforming is part of a mindset. He says that the formal system of planning in Delhi represe nted by the Master Plan has never taken into account the informal dynamics, including the fact that Delhi, compared to the rest of the country, has low overhead costs and the highest minimum wage. This has been one of the major reasons for the large-scal e migration and concentration of small business and industry in Delhi in the last three decades. He said that a look at the areas that saw early industrialisation would show that they were all located along railway lines and national highways. Even the n ewer ones were situated in and around old industrial areas, he pointed out. The units relocated following their classification as hazardous ones have been replaced by new ones although their pollution potential is not known, according to him. Industry an d residential areas had traditionally co-existed in Delhi and the Master Plan failed to recognise this pattern, he said. Instead, while major violations of the Plan, like that of the Asiad Village complex, took place, no petition took cognisance of this. The focus was on de-industrialising Delhi. "To imagine that only 168 industries are responsible for the environmental degradation of the city is to take things too far," said Dunu Roy.

From hazardous, the focus shifted to non-conforming. Even here, among the industries that had to relocate, the ones that were short-listed were those that had paid an advance. There was no mention of the plight of the thousands of casual workers of these units. In the MPD or the court order there was no scheme for the selection of workers. In any case, as there are no lists of factory workers, it was evident that owners would make the most of the situation, leaving the workers high and dry.

Dunu Roy argued that only some 7 per cent of the 52,000 industrial units would be classified as polluting ones. He alleged that environmental activism had gained strength because some units were coming up in the posh areas in south Delhi where policy-mak ers live. "I look at all the clean places in the city and I find policy-makers live there. If cleanliness is associated with these people, then I would suggest that they move to the allegedly polluting areas of East and West Delhi and automatically they will ensure that the place is kept clean," he said. Industrial units were after all concentrated only in some areas, whereas vehicular pollution was spread all over Delhi. In any case, the fact that industrial pollution constitutes a very small portion o f the total pollution load in the capital is borne out by the Central Pollution Control Board.

According to a joint paper of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the Delhi Science Forum (DSF), at the heart of the matter lay the attempt to change the land-use policy in Delhi. The MPD had a distinct class bias, which was reflected in its lac k of provisioning for the resettlement of the nearly 30 lakh people living in slums. There are also no projections regarding provision of basic amenities to these people. All the social infrastructure facilities that the MPD talks about are meant to serv e the middle and upper income groups, the paper says.

The process of relocation has always spelt disaster for workers and it is speculated that what happened in the majority of cases following the closure and relocation of hazardous units would be repeated in the case of the SSIs of Delhi as well. The owner s of a large number of the 168 units that had moved out following the 1996 court order, were able to get rid of their old workers, especially those who had formed unions. Birla Textile Mills, Swatantra Bharat Mills and Ayodhya Textile Mills are examples. A report titled "Things Fall Apart - Voices of Women Affected by the Closure of 168 Units" by the Janwadi Adhikar Manch, says workers' families were severely hit by the closures. Of the 53 families interviewed, only 16 were found to have some source of income. Women and children had taken to piece work as family incomes had dropped steeply (Frontline, May 22, 1998). While the factory owners netted big sums by selling their industrial land in Delhi, very few of them established units elsewhere or re-employed their workers.

Workers of G.D. Rathi Steel Limited had a pathetic story to tell. The factory shifted to sites in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, but the workers were not reinstated. Many of them were not paid gratuity or other benefits. Most of these workers had put in 15 to 20 years of work and settled in the factory's neighbourhood. So moving to Alwar in Rajasthan, where there was no guarantee of jobs and where the minimum wages were low compared to Delhi, was an unrealistic proposition. The industry owners got the cou rt to accept that they could relocate anywhere in the country. So the workers were asked to report for work at places like Baddi in Himachal Pradesh in the case of Birla Mills or Tonk in Rajasthan in the case of Swatantra Bharat Mills.

A team of the All India Lawyers' Union that went to Baddi in 1998 found infrastructure for production or housing absent there. The Supreme Court order had held that workers who refused to go to the new place of work would be given one-year's wage as comp ensation instead of six years' in the case of closure. Neither Congress(I) nor BJP leaders took up the cause of the workers, for the numbers affected were not as big as in the case of the SSIs.

According to the CITU-DSF study, the majority of workers in the factories of Delhi are employed without any official record - there are no wage registers, wage slips, appointment letters, or Employees State Insurance or Provident Fund accounts. Full infr astructural facilities, credit and tax incentives are promised to the owners for relocation, but nothing is done to protect the interests of the workers.

Surajbhan Bharadwaj, general secretary of the CITU's Delhi unit, told Frontline that until a survey was done no worker should be removed and no industrial unit closed down. In a memorandum submitted to Jagmohan, the CITU has demanded the continuan ce of the units that have existed for decades in residential areas; provision of water, electricity, residence and civic amenities for workers in those places where the unit is supposed to shift; re-employment of workers in the relocated sites in accorda nce with the figures in the survey; and provision of minimum wages according to the skills of the workers, and enforcement of labour laws and payment of compensation for dislocation. It has asked the Central government to keep the interests of the worker s and the industrial units in mind while drafting the new Master Plan.

It remains to be seen what posture the Central and Delhi governments will adopt in the coming months.

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