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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015

Reality and Illusion

Saturday 6 June 2015, by Rajindar Sachar

Last year, when the BJP with Modi as the Prime Minister romped home with an overwhelming majority of its own, people thought that for the next few years this government was untouchable and any mass discontent would be just wished away. Any such self-conceit amongst the BJP loyalists now lies shattered on the roads of towns and the fields of villages.

The reasons are not far to seek. An old adage—that you can fool all the people for some time and some people for all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time—is as true today as when it was first formulated.

As it is, even the original impression was totally out of reality, because it should be remembered that Modi’s majority was occasioned by a faulty electoral system wherein 31 per cent of popular votes gave such an overwhelming majority to him in the Lok Sabha. That is why there is a general view developing in favour of two important electoral reforms—prohibition of the corporate sector contributing to election funds (as was in the USA till a couple of years back), and a list system should be introduced instead of the present system as it is more democratic and reflects public opinion more equitably besides being prevalent in Europe.

But in spite of this reality, the BJP Government continues to remain in illusion as witnessed by its contumacious approach to the mass agitation against the Land Acquisition Act 2013 as amended by ordinances brought in by the BJP and further efforts to weaken the trade union movement by making regressive changes in the Industrial Law.

As it is, the Land Acquisition Act 2013 was the result of mass agitation by the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar and a great number of human right activists, socialists. The UPA Government had resisted it till the last until it was overwhelmed by massive public protests. Ironical that the UPA constituents should now be boasting of being farmers’ supporters, though having resisted these changes like the Social Impact Assessment Provision which, I remember, was incorporated as far back as 1990 by a resolution of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (of which I was then a member) and which was soon after ratified by the United Nations Organisation—obviously the BJP is inviting ridicule by purporting to act against the views of the UNO.

At present under the Indian Trade Union Act 1926, any seven or more members of a Trade Union can apply for registration as a Trade Union. The Central Government wants to raise the number to 100. The result obviously would be to deny the right of Trade Unionism to the overwhelming number of workers in small factories which, as it is, are the more exploited ones. This attack on labour is so blatantly partisan when it is compared with the Companies Act. 2013, where only seven persons can apply for forming a public company with the minimum paid-up share capital of Rs 5 lakhs (though its capital can be in millions)—this provision continues to be the same as it was under the 1956 Act, but for labour the extra-unconscionable burden of having 100 members is being required. Is any more blatant proof of the BJP’s pro-corporate affinity required? Encouragingly the Central Trade Unions have already given a call for nationwide protests against such anti-labour policies of the Modi Government.

A further anti-labour legislation being contemplated by the Central Government is to amend Section 25(O) of the Industrial Disputes Act, which requires permission of the appropriate government if the employer wishes to close the industrial enterprise. At present it is applicable to enterprises with 100 workmen (that is, about 75 per cent of the total labour force). To weaken labour it is sought to amend the law by applying it to undertakings employing 300 workmen—virtually throwing three-fourths of workmen into the lairs of industrial tycoons.

 As it is, there is the international corporate pressure as is evident from the proceedings of International Labour Organisation (ILO) where the corporate lobby is desperately making all efforts at ensuring that the right of workmen to strike should be banned. That such a move should even be debated is a matter of grave concern. How can such a move have even been allowed to be discussed at the ILO, a body meant to preserve and enhance workers’ rights and privileges all around?

The right to strike by workers is a sacred, essential weapon in their hands and it has emerged as the inherent right of every worker. It is of the very essence of the principle of collective bargaining. The Modi Government, if it wishes to refute its softness to Big Business, must publicly announce that it will oppose at the ILO any proposal to ban strikes.

There is patent falsehood in the Modi Govern-ment’s propaganda that changes in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 are required as the overwhelming number of government projects, which are expected to quicken the economic development for the benefit of the masses, are stalled because of non-availability of land. This excuse is patently false—if details of the 804 projects that are said to have been stalled since February 2015 are examined closely, it will show that 78 per cent are of the private sector. More important, of the 804 projects that are said to be stalled only eight per cent are stalled due to land acquisition problems.

The government has ready land available but it will not touch it because of its proximity to the Big Corporate Sector which got allotted land in the Special Economic Zones, but at present 50 per cent of those remain unutilised—under the terms of allotment the government is entitled to take back this area without paying any amount to the corporate sector. Why does the government not exercise this power?

If in spite of this mass agitation against the ordinances to the land Acquisition Act lay by kisans, industrial workers, concerned citizens, the Modi Government insists on pursuing its present course, one would be unable to find any rational explanation and will have to fall back on the only explanation, that is, what Shakespeare said: “Those whom God wishes to destroy they first make them mad.” This was attributed to the Greek Philosopher Hippolytus in 428 BC—but then the BJP would prefer the homely Sanskrit version, namely, “Vinash Kale Vipareet Buddhi”.

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, was the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail: rsachar1@vsnl.net/rsachar23@bol.net.in