Millennium Post

Labour’s love lost in the NDA camp

As observers dub present times to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Margaret Thatcher moment’, a historic five-day strike by coal miners’ union has taken centre-stage in Indian national life. Led, intriguingly enough, by the RSS affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and propped up by others such as the CPI(M) workers’ wing Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), CPI-backed All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and the Congress-fronted Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), this is the biggest workers’ strike in three decades. Not only does it threaten to derail the coal production process, sending the heavily dependent thermal power plants in a state of absolute disarray, it is a sure-shot road to grazing off a chunk of the annual GDP resulting from inevitable power outages. Shortage of coal, which is the raw material behind 60 per cent of power produced in the country, would in turn hit water supply, transportation, industrial output, sending the economy, which is already reeling under a drooping oil price, into further free fall.

However, all this is only one side of the story, in which doom and gloom has been predicted for the industry, particularly the coal mining sector, which is soon to undergo electronic auctioning of coal mines after the Supreme Court order cancelling allocations of all 214 coal mines sent the mining and power sector reeling in September last year.
Yet what this partial picture unscrupulously leaves out is the climate of despondency that has overwhelmed labour laws and social welfare in India. With de-allocation of coal blocks, while road has been paved for an ostensibly transparent and competitive bidding for public and private players alike, the tell-tale signs that the decades-old monopoly of the world’s largest miner, the government-owned Coal India Limited, on supply of coal, may soon vanish has left the coal miners in extreme distress. Under the new system, much of the mining and factory work would be carried out via contractual labour, disrupting the socioeconomic safety net of fixed payrolls, pensions, job security and more.

In addition, Arvind Panagariya, the face of Modi government’s new plan body NITI Aayog is a staunch supporter of growth over welfare theory, and it is more than likely that under his able stewardship, not only we will see absolute decimation of labour laws in the country, but also a swift end to the residual edifice of public distribution system, social welfare schemes, among others. This wide chasm between BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s political base and economic bulwark, represented by RSS-affiliate labour union BMS and the private corporations respectively, is now out in the open and is threatening to completely eliminate any vestiges of welfare in the name of improving efficiency. Modi government, which came to power riding the ‘achche din’ mantra, must not forget that the working class is as deserving of the promised good times as the corporate class.
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