Interview: Tapan Sen, CITU

‘Fit example of deceptive articulation’

Print edition : March 02, 2018

Tapan Sen. Photo: N. Rajesh

Interview with Tapan Sen, Rajya Sabha member and general secretary of the CITU.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) believes that the Union Budget for 2018-19 is an exercise in sophisticated deception. The CITU and other central trade unions have been at loggerheads with the National Democratic Alliance government on a range of issues, including a national minimum wage of Rs.18,000 for workers. The Budget, the CITU feels, is high on rhetoric and low on deliverables, and has failed to meet the expectations of the working class once again. Tapan Sen, CITU general secretary, in this interview, explains why the Budget is an exercise in obfuscation. Excerpts:

What are your impressions of the Budget?

I am surprised at the government’s deception in the manner in which they have presented the Budget. It appears as if the Budget has done a lot for the common people, but in reality it is the exact opposite. The Budget speech is a fit example of deceptive articulation. Anybody who has followed the Budget carefully will notice how the Finance Minister has articulated a bigger and bigger transfer of national assets. The Budget claims to have a lot for the rural economy and agriculture.

The allocation for agriculture, rural development and allied activities, all taken together, has increased by only Rs.9,793 crore compared with the Revised Estimates. How is that going to take care of the whole range of measures right from irrigation onwards? The Finance Minister also declared that the government will invest in agriculture. But where is the allocation for that? We told the Finance Minister during pre-Budget consultations that if he agreed to some of our demands, the process of generating productive employment will start and result in distributive justice. But a paradigm shift is required for the government to do that.

They have spoken about giving one and a half times of the MSP [minimum support price], over and above the cost of production. They said they had already given it for the rabi crop and for kharif they would give in the current year. This is blatant mistruth. Farmers have been agitating for the MSP for the rabi crop, and the Maharashtra government recently said it was going to set up a committee to deal with that issue. But the Union government claims it has already given the MSP for the rabi crop. If this isn’t obfuscation, what is?

One big announcement is the National Health Protection Scheme, touted as the largest such scheme in the world.

Yes, it is interesting how the Finance Minister kept on reiterating how 50 crore people would stand to benefit from the Rs.5 lakh coverage per family. The allocation can hardly take care of 10 lakh families. The allocation is fictitious and the amount may be unspent. They have to notify the scheme through a government order. By the time all that happens, it will be time for elections. There is a trend of linking with the insurance process whatever benefit the government is bringing in. The performance of insurance companies is so tardy that beneficiaries of a scheme do not get the benefit. We saw this in the case of crop insurance. The claims settled were less than one-tenth of the premium collected. The health protection scheme of the government has to be understood in that light. There is a kind of repackaging to ensure that the insurance channel comes through. Wherever the private sector comes, the rate of rejection is bound to be high.

The government has claimed, on the basis of an increase in EPFO registrations, that new jobs have been generated.

The government is bearing the burden of Provident Fund payment—employers’ part of the Provident Fund —for three years with the understanding that it will relate to the new employment that will be created. First, they did it for one and a half years for the garment and apparel industries. In eight labour-intensive sectors, of which textiles is a part, employment generation has been very minimal for the last three years. In a meeting with trade unions, the Labour Minister claimed that nine lakh jobs had been created in a span of one year, calculating the money that the government had given as employers’ contribution. It is a falsehood. It also shows that there is a lot of faking by private employers to get that benefit in an atmosphere of recession. They would take some contract workers and declare them as regular workers in the name of formalisation.

As far as employment generation is concerned, now an income tax rebate is being given on wages paid to new employees. That part of the cost will be treated as a rebate for the employer. They have declared reduction of corporate tax. Earlier, the reduction in corporate tax rates was only for micro, small and medium enterprises [MSMEs] with an annual turnover of Rs.50 crore. Now they have raised it to Rs.250 crore. In micro and small enterprises, where are the industries with this kind of a turnover? Earlier, the criterion for MSMEs was capital deployment, turnover was never the parameter. This is pilferage of the national exchequer for the employer class. They talk of improving the ranking in ease of doing business; what about the ranking on the Global Hunger Index? It is obscene that they should stake claim for business rankings getting better in such a scenario. The higher figures of GDP are not because greater wealth has been produced. Employment is stagnant and so is the allocation on social security schemes. Even if the Budget has been done with a view on elections, which is the case, the allocations are still so pathetic.

The net employment generation in the entire Modi regime has been negative. No new quality jobs have been created. Some increases were there in some sectors, but all casual and contractual in nature. Wherever factories got shut down, there has been a net decline in employment generation. In order to cover up their failures, they have let loose their pet pen-pushers in the media to state that 70 lakh jobs have been generated in the informal sector, based on EPF enrolment. I have been in the Standing Committee on Labour for the last three years and we have seen that the standard complaint is that the number of people not covered is equal to those who are actually covered under the EPFO. The entire powerloom sector in Maharashtra, concentrated in Sholapur and Bhiwandi, none of them is covered by EPF. This itself comes to 70 lakh workers. The Regional Provident Fund Commissioner [RPFC] has given a 30-page order on the fraud by powerloom owners, where hundreds of looms are operating in the same shed and the entire trade is owned by the same employer, but every two looms are shown as owned by different employers. There are looms registered under maybe a pet dog’s name. The RPFC made an inspection and gave an order, which is yet to be implemented. In Maharashtra alone, the number is 60-70 lakh. Following the trade union movement’s constant assertion, the government announced an amnesty to employers that if they enrolled members under the EPFO, they would not have to pay penalties. That is the new enrolment this government is crowing about. This is a cover-up. Besides, there are no employment data. They are making a lot of noise but not giving any concrete figures—on start-ups, for example. They say that this will become an entrepreneurial society. It is insane. If everyone in society becomes an entrepreneur, who will be doing the work? This reflects the government’s abject failure in generating employment in manufacturing, services and the tertiary sector. Today, capitalism is in crisis as the market that capitalism thrives on is in crisis. The government has a greater responsibility. It is escapist to say that “pakora” selling is equivalent to job generation. It is sheer desperation that compels people to take up any kind of a job. To glamorise this is nothing less than being grossly insensitive and cruel.

Do you think “Make in India” has not made much headway?

In the defence sector, the allocation as a percentage of the GDP is one of the lowest. They are talking about self-reliance in defence production. More than 50 per cent of the production in ordnance factories has been outsourced. They have stopped the ordnance factories from procuring material even after giving them licences. They have arrived at an arrangement with Russia where naval frigates will be delivered to the Indian Navy each year while our own shipyards are being allowed to rot. There are three agreements for fighter jets with Lockheed, Rafale and Reliance. All this used to be done by HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Limited]. They are talking of Make in India, but in fact they are destroying the indigenous capacity to produce. They also express, in other places, how private investment is not coming in; recapitalisation of banks, pressurising them to loan to more defaulters. In the face of this, they are bringing in the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill. All this indicates a transfer from national resources and the public exchequer to the private corporate sector. In a scenario of global recession, our government pushes for free trade.

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