The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) has participated in strikes along with other central trade unions on more than one occasion during the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Its president, G. Sanjeeva Reddy, even questioned the disinvestment in Coal India during the UPA’s term. He spoke to Frontline on what he felt was wrong with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s approach to the economy. Excerpts from the interview:
The Union Budget for 2016-17 will soon be presented. One of the concerns the Finance Minister has flagged is resource mobilisation. Do you think the government will opt for disinvestment to mop up resources to meet its public expenditure and to bridge the fiscal deficit?
The public sector is being neglected. Overall productivity and production have gone down. Only the service sector is doing a little well. In the name of FDI [foreign direct investment], most of the investment that is coming in is going to the speculative market. This can be withdrawn any time. It is the foreign investor who is indirectly controlling the share markets. Our steel industry is making losses. We are importing from China and Japan. Recently, the government wanted to auction the coal mines but there were no takers. There is no focus on strengthening domestic industry and production. The numbers of the educated unemployed are very high.
The present government does not have much faith in the public sector. If you look at our private sector, where are they competing in the international markets? Our automobile industry—the cars manufactured here—are unable to compete in international markets. The conditions of work in the automobile industry are very bad. The majority of the workforce is contractual.
Is the economy moving in the right direction? The government has spoken about increasing public expenditure on social infrastructure and expressed concern about low per capita consumption, including rural consumption.
There is no consistent policy to promote industry. Prices today are going beyond the reach of the common man. Disinvestment as a means to raise resources will be a big blow to the public sector. Resource mobilisation can only be possible by increasing productivity (of labour) and production. The export policy needs to be looked at. Our export earnings are coming down. Industrial production, too, is falling.
The government has cut down on all social security spending. “Make in India” is an empty slogan. The economic situation cannot improve by just slogans. In this scenario there will be no alternative but to disinvest. Public sector assets may have to be sold to reduce the fiscal deficit. This government is going to be more aggressive than the UPA was in targeting PSUs for disinvestment. Previously, there was a good market for disinvestment. But the market is not cooperating any more. But selling public assets is not income. They are talking about increasing public spending but don’t seem to be doing much in that direction. Political propaganda is quite different from real economic activity. In areas where we were self-sufficient, like steel for instance, we are running into losses.
One area that your union has been opposed to is reforms in labour laws, an exercise that was initiated by the UPA and carried forward by the NDA.
The government does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, otherwise it would have moved faster on all the proposed labour laws. Wisdom seems to have finally prevailed on them as I have reliably learnt that they are not going to move ahead with the labour law reforms in the forthcoming session. The condition of labour is deteriorating every day. Vacancies are not getting filled. Central government employees in the railways, insurance and defence are planning to go on a strike. The opposition is not to be blamed for the mess the government finds itself in.