False promises

Shrinking government sector jobs, outsourcing of labour and reduced government investment are among factors that have affected public utility services in Haryana in the last decade.

Published : Jul 20, 2016 16:00 IST

A protest by workers of the Electricity Department in Gurgaon on June 29 against privatisation of 23 sub-stations.

A protest by workers of the Electricity Department in Gurgaon on June 29 against privatisation of 23 sub-stations.

“There is always some protest or the otherhappening here. It used to happen in the time of the previous government, too,” said the owner of a tea stall located opposite the Mini Secretariat in Gurgaon, which is also the office of the District Commissioner. The protest he was pointing to was organised by the Sarva Karamchari Sangh (SKS), representing Class III and Class IV employees in the Haryana government. The Sangh was mobilising support for a protest to be held in Karnal, the home district of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Kattar, on August 9, and a national protest called by the Central trade unions. The demands of the State government employees pertain to the promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its manifesto before the Assembly election in 2014. The BJP promised to regularise “kuttcha” workers and give equal pay for equal work, but as soon as it came to power, it removed 20,000 employees from across departments.

A junior engineer in the Irrigation Department said the problem had begun during the previous Congress rule but the BJP government was no different. Every government department has a fair share of “outsourced employees” now. The outsourced staff, he said, were afraid to join the protest. In 2002, more than 5,000 employees of the State Minor Irrigation and Tubewell Corporation were retrenched, and the corporation, which provided valuable irrigation services such as setting up watercourses and undertaking repair work, was wound up. In the past 25 years, entire departments have been converted into corporations. “The Chairman of the corporation is an Indian Administrative Service officer with a limited tenure. He has no long-term interest. Public utility work has suffered as a consequence. The vacancies in government departments are not getting filled, and officially the system is that if three persons retire, only one post will be filled and that too through a contractor,” said Rajinder Saroha, district president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). Employees from the Transport Department told Frontline that the Road Safety Bill was not at all in the interest of small transporters and those dependent on them. “Most of the people today are either employed in agriculture or in the transport business. Transport is a big source of employment as there are no government jobs available,” said Om Bir Sharma, an office-bearer of the Haryana Roadways Workers’ Union who joined service in 1987. He pointed out how the government had systematically finished off employment in the public sector in the past 25 years.

“In 1992-93, the Haryana Roadways had 3,600 buses servicing a population of one crore. When the population increased to 2.5 crore, the number of vehicles rose to only 4,000. There were 25,000 employees in 1991. Today, we have only 19,000,” he said. Everyone in the early 1990s was a permanent employee. Now, 12,000-13,000 employees are on contract. Recently, he said, 700 people were recruited at a fixed wage of Rs.12,000 on the condition that they should not join any workers’ agitation. A permanent worker is given Rs.40,000, while a worker on contract is paid less than half of that for the same work.

It is the same story in the Electricity Department. In 1987-88, the department employed 50,000 people; now that number has reduced to 23,000. There are four lakh government employees in Haryana—three lakh are permanent employees and one lakh are on contract. Similarly, the Tourism Department, which had 3,600 employees before 1991, has only 1,400 on its rolls now. Much of the work is “outsourced” now. Om Bir Sharma said: “The privatisation of transport not only reduced employment per bus but also resulted in reduced revenue for the government as private buses were given huge tax concessions. It has caused immense hardship for commuters as private buses do not ply on all routes.”

Migrant workers S.A. Khan, an employee in the Irrigation Department, who came to Haryana from Allahabad in 1987, said that there were two kinds of Gurgaons, the Cyber City and the one where workers lived. Gurgaon is a city of stark contrasts. Pramod Kumar Jha, a migrant from Madhubani district in Bihar, knows this. He lost his job as a factory worker and became a priest working for an Ayurvedic medicine factory. He was given shelter and paid Rs.2,000 for conducting morning prayers. When he demanded a raise in salary, his employer threw him out. “Have you heard of Sita Devi, the world famous painter from Madhubani? She was from my village. I learnt Madhubani painting, too, but there is no one to promote the art,” he said. He has now joined a workers’ union and has moved the labour court.

Seema (name changed), another migrant worker from Madhubani, worked in a factory and then as a domestic worker. Now she is a sex worker. “The factory owner wanted some special service from me. I knew what it was. They paid me very low wages. I couldn’t run the household and support four children and a drunkard husband. I left the job, and I have been in the trade for the past three years,” she said. Her family does not know about her source of income. There are more than two dozen such migrant women who were previously employed in factories.

Gurgaon was hit hard by the recession of 2008. Many garment units that shut down operations then have not reopened. Women formed the bulk of the workforce in garment units.

Sanjay Saini, secretary of the union and a former employee of the Electricity Department, said that before the State Electricity Board was restructured in 1998, the consumer used to get an electricity connection quickly. (The board was reorganised initially into Haryana Vidyut Prasaran Nigam Ltd (HVPNL). HVPNL was further reorganised in 1999 by carving out two corporations, Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Ltd. and Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Ltd.) “Today, even if a consumer pays Rs.1 lakh, there is no guarantee that he or she will get a connection. That is the difference between pre-reform days and now. Before the policy of liberalisation was adopted in 1991, even during peak hours we would supply electricity. Now power supply is restricted to four to five hours a day,” he said.

Municipal workers have their own tale of woes. Naresh Kumar Shastri, a senior office-bearer of the SKS who was heading the municipal workers association, said much of the civic work was outsourced now. “The outsourced municipal worker does not get a minimum wage. He or she has to buy brooms and other cleaning material with his/her own money. The workers are abused by the contractors if they complain or demand anything,” he said. He said the BJP had promised to regularise municipal employees but instead its government outsourced civic work. “Civic workers used to die of asphyxiation in sewers then. There are deaths in sewers even now. No safety equipment or gear is provided to workers who unclog sewers. A municipal worker has a short lifespan owing to the environment in which he or she operates. But after his/her death, there is no provision to provide employment to his family members,” he said.

Reduced government investment in the past 25 years has no doubt affected public utility services. Economic growth is evident in the plush areas of Gurgaon, characterised by a real estate boom. But for the majority of the residents, especially migrant workers, even a single square meal is a rare luxury.

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