The lockdown enforced by the government due to the Chinese virus, forced migrant labourers, deprived of jobs and occupations to return from large cities to their native villages. Due to the absence of any type of vehicle due to lockdown, they started moving towards their village on foot, then the governments swung into action and provided vehicles for them. But despite that stories of their agony are disturbing. They all came out of their respective villages in the hope of a good job and a better life; however, the state in which they went back from the cities is telling story of their miseries.
Politics over the issue
Naturally, these workers, after losing employment, were forced to migrate from the cities to their villages due to their weak economic conditions. A strong desire or to say compulsion, to return back to the villages in large numbers; and conditions in which they started their journey, give a frightening picture that was extremely heart-wrenching. As these labourers were returning to their villages on foot, bicycle or by whatever means; there was some arrangement of buses by the governments, but that too was probably not enough. On the other hand, in the lockdown, it was the natural responsibility of the Central and State Governments to provide food to the people and also to deal with such situation, and our governments at centre and states, RSS and many other social organisations did rise to the occasion, however, unfortunately, our political parties especially the main opposition party Congress, is doing nothing except politics.
Who is responsible for the plight?
It is true that the pictures of people, carrying the bundle on their head or carrying whatever their belongings say, their accumulated savings and articles of daily needs in their bag, returning to their village are really hurting any sensitive mind. The mere imagination of their state of mind distracts the heart. But who is responsible for this condition of labourers? Talking about the economic reforms started from 1991, the policymakers of that time had said that after independence, the policy of public sector based quota-license raj, protection of domestic industries and especially small industries, etc. have all failed to solve the problems faced by the country; and now we have to follow the policy of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG). Protection of small scale industries and domestic industries was abolished. Importance was started being given to large corporate and mostly foreign companies. It was even said that the development of the country could only be done by foreign multinationals. Foreign influence in companies, already operating efficiently, started increasing. Small startups were also getting caught in the clutches of foreign investors.
The management of many companies also went completely into foreign hands. Economic reforms and the increasing dominance of foreign capital had become synonymous. Advocates of this policy said that it made possible to consume new goods. This has led to unprecedented growth in GDP growth. This means that the availability of goods and services has increased. The influence of this philosophy had increased so much in the minds of the policymakers that apart from that, they were not ready to listen to or even think of anything different from LPG. Protection of the country’s industries started being treated, virtually a crime. GDP growth was considered as the prototype of development. But today, we see the condition of crores of labourers that they are still deprived of basic necessities of life. His condition is gauged from the fact that crores of workers couldn’t withstand the situation arising out of a few days of lockdown and were forced to return to their villages. Their financial situation did not allow them to wait for even a few more days. The question is why the economic policies that boast of high growth could not empower enough the poor labourer financially? In fact, this LPG policy was not for the benefit of the poor labour and farmer. Some easily understandable figures expose this policy.
Thomas Piketty, a world-renowned economist and author of the book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, after analysing Indian economic growth, writes that 66 per cent of all GDP growth which happened between 1980 and 2014 reached only the top 10 per cent people. If we look at the condition of the labourers, we find that in 1991, the share of labour in the production was 78 per cent which reduced to just 45 per cent; while the share of profit increased from 19 per cent to 52 per cent during the same period. Monetary wages have increased by seven times since 1991 until 2017-18, however, during the same period; prices have also gone up by 6.5 times (Source: Annual Survey of Industries). While the real GDP has increased at least 10 times in this period, such a small rise in real wages is ridiculous. Obviously, the relative condition of the workers has worsened during this period.
During the same time, the rural-urban gap has widened remarkably. In 2016-17, per capita income in the rural areas was nearly ₹ 23000 per annum, whereas, in urban areas, it was around ₹ 290000, i.e. 12.3 times more (based on NABARD Survey, 2016-17). Meanwhile, the deprivations have also increased much more than ever. Despite all tall claims of globalists, 37 per cent of our children between one to five years of age are stunted (low height for age), 22 per cent are wasted (low weight for height), and 34 per cent are underweight, as per National Family Health Survey-4 (2014-15). The real condition of labourers is visible on the streets these days, which migrated to urban areas, especially metros in search of employment and better living. But the irony is that the political parties responsible for this plight of the workers and peasants, are trying to pose as their real well-wishers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently advocated strongly for ‘local’, who meaning thereby, promotion of production and feel proud of the goods produced locally
We need to realise that the current model of LPG based development has failed miserably. Today it is necessary that this model of development be changed. We need to shun this model, based on corporate, FDI and multinational companies and adopt a model that takes care of employment; income and wealth distribution along with production; a model in which decentralised development takes place, with human values and sensibilities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently advocated strongly for ‘local’, who meaning thereby, promotion of production and feel proud of the goods produced locally. This path will surely reduce dependence on the rest of the world automatically and help the development of small and cottage industries and artisans, with a promise of more employment opportunities. This will also provide more income opportunities to un-utilised labour. This model of development based on local and self-reliance will be beneficial for all. This will also make villagers happy and villages more prosperous, with rural industries and other farm and nonfarm economic activities. Then the expatriates who have returned to their homes will not be compelled to return to the cities.
(The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)