Harshaneeyam Podcast

जंगलो के विनाश और जंगल पर आश्रित समुदाय की अत्यन्त पीड़ा को शब्दों में पिरोकर श्री विभूति भूषण बंदोपाध्याय ने 1930 के दशक में “अरण्यक” नाम से बंगाली उपन्यास लिखा। जो कि आगे चलकर अत्यधिक प्रचलित हुआ और इसका अनुवाद कई भारतीय और विदेशी भाषाओं में किया गया।

इस उपन्यास की प्रेरणा से ओत प्रोत होकर, हर्षनियम नाम की एक पॉडकास्टिंग साइट ने “अरण्यक” के तेलुगु अनुवाद “वनवासी” का ऑडियो के रूप में पॉडकास्ट कर रही है। यह तेलुगु अनुवाद स्वर्गीय श्री सूरमपुड़ी सीताराम द्वारा किया गया है।

इसके अलावा हरसनियम, देश के विभिन्न हिस्सों से पर्यावरणविदों, सामाजिक कार्यकर्ताओं तथा सामाजिक वैज्ञानिकों का साक्षातकार भी पॉडकास्ट करती है, जो आजीवन आदिवासी हितों और पर्यावरण की संरक्षण के लिए कार्यरत हैं।

Written in 1930’s, ‘Aranyak’ is a highly popular Bengali Novel, which is translated into many Indian and Foreign Languages. It is written by Sri. Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyaya and is about the destruction of forests and about the suffering of people who are dependent on Forests.

‘Harshaneeyam’ is a podcasting site which is podcasting the novel in audio form in Telugu as ‘Vanavasi’, which is translated by late Sri. Soorampudi Sitharam.

Apart from this, There will be interviews from Conservationists, Scientists and activists who are working for the environment and the rights of Indigenous people from different parts of the country.

Click here for Harshaneeyam podcast

Click here for Ravi Rebbapragada’s interview Part-1, Part-2

May Day 2021: What Has (Not) Changed Since the Pandemic Ravaged Livelihoods of Workers

The Wire | K.R. Shyam Sundar | May 01, 2021
Despite the government passing several laws, hurting the hard-earned labour rights over centuries, workers are staring at an uncertain phase during which neither old labour laws nor the new codes are effectively relevant.

This is the second May Day during COVID-19 and hence as dark as it was in 2020, if not darker. For several reason, it is darker in many senses for the working class. Let us briefly review what happened post-May Day 2020.

The COVID-19 2020 period witnessed several legislations both at the state and at the central levels hurting the hard-earned labour rights over centuries. Capitalising on the extraordinary situation created by the pandemic, several state governments hurriedly, and even unwisely, passed government orders extending the maximum hours of work in a day from eight to 12, and in a week from 48 to 60 hours. In Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the judiciary struck them down due to their illegality. On the other hand, some states dared to enter where angels feared to tread by making sweeping changes in all or some major labour laws like Factories Act, 1948, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, among others.

At the same time, the central government enacted three Codes – Industrial Relations Code (IRC), Occupational Safety and Health and Working Conditions Code (OSHWCC) and Social Security Code (SSC). The Codes afforded considerable flexibility to employers and contractors by exempting more establishments from regulations concerning standing orders, retrenchment and closure, safety and health, contract labour welfare, etc. The Codes provided some benefits to the working-class like universal minimum wage, trade union recognition, social security for gig and platform workers, wider definition of migrant workers, etc.

Seen holistically, the corpus of legislation provides some benefits which due to lack of effective implementation machinery and of will to implement on the part of the government mean little or even nothing; on the other hand, the employer-friendly clauses are easy to implement as they significantly reduce the role of the government in the labour market owing to increased non-coverage of establishments and workers. This is the irony of the labour laws which is often missed out by commentators. Laws deregulate and thereby cause state retrenchment.

This brings us to the issue of governance of labour market. Labour market governance majorly comprises two aspects: administration of labour laws and collection of labour statistics.

The first year of COVID-19 has so vividly and so woefully brought to life the complete absence of labour market governance. Virtually there was no record of inter-state migrant workers and what happened to them during this period of the pandemic. Even the Supreme Court wondered in 2017 that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) did not know where Rs 20,000 crore collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Cess Act, 1996, meant for spending on construction workers’ welfare had gone! Earlier in 2015, the apex court expressed displeasure over the non-utilisation of the cess fund of Rs 26,000 crore.

The unorganised workers did not receive the mandated smart registration card under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (UNSSA). Even as the labour minister unjustifiably claimed that the OSHWCC provides better occupational safety and health protection to workers, the lack of valid and reliable statistics on industrial accidents is striking. In the meanwhile, industrial accidents have been occurring at frequent intervals in various parts of India, especially New Delhi.

What has [not] Changed?

Legislative vacuum

The four labour codes have been hurriedly passed but not notified till now. I have provided a comprehensive critique of these Codes in my book, Impact of COVID-19, Reforms and Poor Governance on Labour Rights in India (Synergy Books India, 2021).

The central government has hastily used the escape clause in the Wage Code and notified the provisions related to the constitution of the Minimum Wages Advisory Board in December 2020; however, nothing has happened yet. The industry bodies have been reportedly lobbying with the government for changes in the definition of ‘wages’ since the new definition will likely see an increased outgo in social security. Economic slowdown and COVID-19’s virulent spread has impacted businesses and trade considerably and hence the non-implementation of the new Codes, especially the Wage Code, benefits the industry.

The central government fixed April 1, 2021 as the date for the implementation of the four Codes at a stretch. However, as on April 1, 2021, many state governments have not framed the rules under the Codes, leading to a delay in their implementation. Now this has created a “legal void” which in many ways affect both industry and workers adversely. Minimum wage rates are yet to be revised based on new criteria. Social security for the gig and platform economy workers cannot be implemented. The inclusive definition of migrant workers including voluntary migrant workers along with contracted migrant workers cannot be implemented. The list is long.

The “implementing authorities” are justifiably confused as to how to make the rules under the new Codes. Neither the Centre has helped their cause nor the state governments have sought the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s technical assistance in this regard –reflective of the government’s neo-unilateralism. Given the multiple and competing commitments that the governments face during the second wave of COVID-19, one does not see the implementation of the new Codes in the near future.

The employers and workers are staring at an uncertain interregnum during which neither old labour laws nor the new Codes are effectively relevant. This is perhaps the first of its kind in the legislative history of India that the social partners and even the administering agencies are confused and uncertain.

Labour market governance deficits

During the current COVID-19 period (2021), we are witnessing the second wave of reverse migration of workers who once bitten are twice shy. Despite some state governments like Maharashtra and New Delhi having appealed to the migrant workers to stay back, thousands of them have gone back to their villages.

The first period of COVID-19 exposed the utter collapse of the labour administrative system. I have dealt with the labour market governance deficits in detail in my book mentioned above.

Here are a few points on this issue that are also mentioned with evidence in the book:

The existing unemployment insurance scheme is extremely inadequate, and during 2007-17, just about 10,000 workers claimed unemployment allowance under the ESI (Employees’ State Insurance) scheme
Several state governments did not even disburse a single rupee from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) cess fund even as the migrant-cum-construction workers were facing terrible hardships;
The state governments were poor performers in implementing the BOCW Act, 1996 despite admonitions by the Supreme Court;
The state governments, the employers and even the trade unions have been guilty of non-provision of correct, timely and reliable statistics; the labour statistical system has collapsed beyond repair and there does not exist a comprehensive and reliable labour statistical system;
The industrial disputes settlement machinery was grossly inadequate to deal with the magnitude of industrial conflicts and the dispute settlement processes suffer from inordinate delays;
The labour enforcement machinery has been considerably diluted which reflected in poor implementation of laws as evidenced by steeply declining number of inspections, prosecutions, etc.
Given the cruel and entirely unforgivable failure on the part of the government in implementing the laws concerning migrant, construction and unorganised workers, one would have thought that the governments would have sprung to rectify the huge deficits. Did they? The delay and in a significant sense the complete failure to do so is appalling.

The central government has proposed five pan-India surveys on migrant workers, domestic workers, employment generated by professionals, employment generated in transport sector and quarterly establishment-based employment survey in February 2021 – nearly a year after the first exodus of migrant workers in 2020. The government is expected to release the data on migrant workers by November 2021.

Given the magnitude of migrant workers and the dynamic nature of their work, it is doubtful whether the government would accomplish what it promises. Without a credible database, it would be difficult even for an unusually benevolent and sensitive government to reach the benefits to the targeted workers.

Even in the new dispensation, there is no plan to collect data on the service sector on a comprehensive basis and that on gig and platform economy workers. The question here is: is there a national registry of these workers? The answer is a BIG NO. The government is playing with “guesstimates” and how credible are their promises for social security cover for these workers in the absence of a credible database?

We do not have credible statistics on the newly registered construction workers in India by states. Several state governments including Delhi have announced registration drives for construction workers, but we still do not know the actual live registrations of more than 55 million construction workers who accounted for 12.14% of total employment in India during 2018-19.

While the SSC does not provide for the provision of registration cards, which went largely unnoticed, since the old law, the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, is prevalent, one does not know whether any constructive move has been launched for registering these workers. The silver lining in this data mess is the officially claimed significant coverage – 86% of the beneficiaries (69 crore) under the National Food Security Act in 32 states and Union Territories – under the One Nation and One Ration Card (ONOR).

The Union Budget 2021 did not provide much comfort to the millions of informal workers. It merely reiterated the ill-formed provisions in the labour codes. The high-frequency unemployment rates produced by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has been higher than 6.5% and throughout April 2021. The absence of macro-level unemployment assistance/insurance scheme, especially during high unemployment-prone COVID-19 times is hugely disturbing. The government has persisted with the tough conditions-laced unemployment insurance scheme offered to workers registered under the ESI scheme.

The SSC does not provide for unemployment assistance/insurance scheme even though it included them in the definition of social security. The MNREGS often acts as a proxied unemployment assistance programme, and hence, generally when unemployment rates spike there is corresponding spikes in the demand for jobs under this scheme, as is the case in April 2021 when the demand for jobs under the scheme increased by 89%.

Given this grim reality, the fact that the budgetary allocation for this scheme for the current fiscal is 34% less than the revised allocation for it for 2020-21 is disturbing.

Absence of any form of dialogue

Enough has been said and written on the absence of and contempt for social dialogue in India even though the government has ratified the ILO Convention, C.144, Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976. The governments have to realise that concrete and useful relief measures cannot be framed and delivered without the aid of trade unions and other workers’ organisations. Hence, there is an urgent need for the government to activate consultation with trade unions not only for amending the defective labour codes, but also frame policies and relief measures to tackle the increasingly menacing COVID-19 this year. Trade unions and workers’ organisations can help in registration of informal workers of various kinds which by itself will be a humungous achievement for workers in India.

There is also a need for a federal dialogue, and a revival of the historically established body, the Labour Ministers’ Conference. This is essential to frame coordinated and non-duplicating measures and also enable the state governments to frame the rules under the labour codes.

If the monolithic government in China could consult the ILO while framing and reforming its labour laws, what prevents the democratic government in India from consulting the ILO is difficult to fathom. ILO has expertise which if accessed would only contribute to better lawmaking and more efficient labour market governance. Not doing so must be attributed to its unholy marriage with “neo-unilaterlism”.

Need for contemporaneous May Day charter, 2021

Thus, the working class has to be prepared to brace another “bad year” or even years in near future as it fights two adversities – COVID-19 and the neo-liberal flexible labour policy regime. Then, May Day 2021 should strengthen its resolve to fight both. It should shelve its 12-points charter of demands and make ‘Lives and livelihoods matter’ as its slogan. The specific contemporary and urgent demands include:

Amendment of labour codes to retain and improve on the existing labour rights
Immediate implementation of the labour laws relating to unorganised sector workers, including migrant, domestic, construction and new economy workers
issue smart ID cards to all these workers, involving trade unions and other workers’ organisations, and initiate a registration campaign for them
Establish a comprehensive labour statistics system in consonance with international labour statisticians’ recommendations
Declare minimum wages and occupational safety and health as fundamental rights
Declare COVID-19 as a national emergency
Ensure adequate labour administrative and judicial bodies for speedy delivery of industrial justice
Universalise social protection

Significantly, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has demanded occupational safety and health to be included as a fundamental human right by the ILO at the global level and this should resonate in India as well. Trade unions must leverage international organisations like ILO and ITUC to strengthen its campaign to usher in decent work and also more crucially to tackle the COVID-19-induced crisis. The four-pillar approach advocated by ILO must be at the centre of policy lobbying by trade unions. Industry could join as it stands to benefit from these campaigns as in these tough times, the interests of both converge.

After Asiatic lions test COVID-positive in Hyderabad, Punjab closes zoos till May 31

The Economic Times | May 08, 2021
According to reports, earlier, lions and tigers had tested positive for COVID-19 in zoos in Barcelona (Spain) and Bronx in the US.

Days after eight Asiatic lions in the Hyderabad zoo tested positive for COVID-19, authorities in Punjab announced that all zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the state will remain closed till May 31 as a precautionary measure.

Zoo officials said animals were being closely monitored.

Days after eight Asiatic lions in the Hyderabad zoo tested positive for COVID-19, authorities in Punjab announced that all zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the state will remain closed till May 31 as a precautionary measure.

Zoo officials said animals were being closely monitored.

At Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park, popularly known as Chhatbir Zoo, about 20 km from here and spread over 505 acres, officials said the animals were being closely monitored.

On Tuesday, the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology said that eight Asiatic lions in the Hyderabad zoo have tested positive for COVID-19.

It said the animals must have got the infection through the zoo-keeping staff.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had said the infected animals were behaving normally.

According to reports, earlier, lions and tigers had tested positive for COVID-19 in zoos in Barcelona (Spain) and Bronx in the US.

Centre to direct states to utilise Rs 24.5k cr DMF funds for fight against Covid

Financial Express | Surya Sarathi Ray | April 30, 2021

As per the latest government data, states have spent only Rs 21,512 crore or less than 50% of the Rs 45,977 crore accumulated so far under the DMF fund with contribution from mining lease holders.

The Centre will soon direct states to better utilise the staggering Rs 24,500 crore, lying unspent with district mineral foundations (DMFs), in the fight against the pandemic. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2021 empowers the Centre to give directions to states regarding utilisation of the fund under DMFs.

As per the latest government data, states have spent only Rs 21,512 crore or less than 50% of the Rs 45,977 crore accumulated so far under the DMF fund with contribution from mining lease holders.

The poor utilisation is despite Centre’s March 2020 suggestion, as part of the first tranche of the Atmanirbhar package, to the state governments to utilise the fund for augmenting facilities for medical testing, medical screening and other requirements to deal with Covid-19 pandemic.

As per the MMDR (Amendment) Act, 2015, lease holders are required to contribute to the not-for-profit DMFs between 10-30% of the royalty, in addition to the royalty paid to state governments. The Act mandates state governments must establish DMFs in all districts affected by mining-related operations.

Sources in the mines ministry said that a directive will be issued soon to the states to better use the fund to bridge the health infrastructure gap at the district and the state level and to provide necessary healthcare support to the people.

“We are considering all aspects to see how the DMF fund can be better used to fight against coronavirus. We are planning to issue some directions to the states as to where the fund can be used, how it can be used and others very soon,” said a senior official in the mines ministry. The direction may be issued in the next few days.

As per the guidelines, 60% of the DMF funds is to be used for ‘high priority sectors’ such as drinking water supply and education and the remaining 40% for ‘other priority sectors’ such as physical infrastructure, energy and cowshed development.

The DMF funds collections have been the highest in mineral-rich Odisha (Rs 12,186 crore), followed by Jharkhand (Rs 6,533 crore), Chhattisgarh (Rs 6,470 crore), Rajasthan (Rs 4,664 crore) and Telangana (Rs 3,000 crore).

State to source DMF funds for infrastructure complex

The New Indian Express | Oct 05, 2020
Each complex will accommodate about 150 to 200 senior citizens/destitute, 100 to 200 children with physical disabilities and 50 children with intellectual disabilities.

BHUBANESWAR: Faced with delay in taking up projects resulting in cost overruns as well as funds crunch, Odisha Government has decided to go for construction of integrated infrastructure complex, including old age homes, with the funding support from District Mineral Foundation (DMF).

In 2016, Government had envisaged construction of old age homes and rehabilitation centres in all 30 districts as mandated under Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to ensure a peaceful life to the neglected and destitute senior citizens as well as widows and mentally retarded children.

The five-year project started in 2017 was to be completed by 2022. Though work initially started in nine districts – Bhadrak, Khurda, Puri, Cuttack, Ganjam, Nabarangpur, Kandhamal, Sambalpur and Malkangiri and Rs 70 crore has been released out of the State budget so far, only around 20 per cent work is complete.
Initially the work was hampered due to land dispute, delay in land alienation and local agitations but the pandemic cast a shadow this year.

“In some districts, construction work started after land disputes were resolved and with help of police in June last year,” said an official.Meanwhile, it has been decided that the infrastructure complex in nine districts – Jharsuguda, Keonjhar, Koraput, Angul, Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Sundargarh, Rayagada and Mayurbhanj – will be funded by the DMF and construction of centres in rest 12 districts will be taken up from the State budget.

Accordingly, the total cost of the project has been revised to Rs 1,191.58 crore of which Rs 858.22 crore has been proposed to be met from State budget and balance Rs 333.36 crore from DMF. The infrastructure complex having old-age home, disabilities rehabilitation centre, facilities for vocational training, meditation and prayer hall and other supporting amenities will be built on 25 acre of land.

The Collectors of districts where the facility will be built with funds from DMF have been directed to furnish firm commitment for funding the project. NGO or agency which would be engaged in managing the integrated complexes will bear the maintenance cost out of the grants received by them.

“It has also been decided to deploy one officer along with five support staff to monitor the functioning of the complex. District administration will identify the NGO and in case, a corporate organisation agrees to fund major portion of the cost of the project, such organisations will be allowed to select the NGO to run it,” the official said.

Each complex will accommodate about 150 to 200 senior citizens/destitute, 100 to 200 children with physical disabilities and 50 children with intellectual disabilities.

Project plan
Infrastructure complex to be constructed in 30 districts
Total cost of the project has been revised to Rs 1,191.58 crore
Rs 858.22 crore to be met from State budget
Rs 333.36 crore from DMF

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