'This government has not created any employment.'
'Forget employment, the government had not done anything in skill development.'
K C Mishra, general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party's trade union wing, is angry and disappointed if we were to go by his opinion on the Narendra Modi government's economic policies.
Mishra tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier how Modi's economic policies have impacted the Indian labour force.
The criticism against the Modi government is that it caters to the Ambanis and the Adanis. Do you agree with this?
I fully agree. The Modi government is very much pro-capitalists and industrialists.
We thought this government would work for the poorer sections and workers, but they have not.
In the last two years, we see that the decisions taken by the government are not in favour of the poorer section of society.
For example, the land acquisition bill -- though they have rolled it back -- was totally against the farmers and the poor.
Take the contributory provident fund.
Like all the central trade unions said contributory PF is not unclaimed money. It was because of the wrong management that people were not getting their PF money.
We had requested the government not to take it, but they have taken Rs 16,000 crore that belonged to the people.
We are opposing this and many such anti-workers decisions.
That is why we say the government is not pro-workers.
During the 2014 election campaign and after Modi came to power, he said his government would create lakhs of jobs for skilled and unskilled workers.
Were they able to fulfil it?
This government has not created any employment.
Forget employment, the government had also promised that they would develop the skills of people who belong to the weaker sections, but till date, they have not done anything in the field of skill development.
Earlier, there was a fund of Rs 4.89 lakh crore for skill development, now the government has given it to some agencies in Maharashtra and some other places, but nothing has been done in the unorganised sector.
Last year, you criticised the Make in India programme. Can it not create employment opportunities in the country?
Under the Make in India programme, till date we have not seen a single programme that benefits workers.
We have not seen any good happening for the workers of India under this programme.
We see people coming from outside to make money, and mind you, they are not here to help Indian workers or the Indian economy.
When they are here for their own business, how do you expect them to help my country?
I remember reading a survey done by some agency that every year, for every rupee invested here, eight rupees go out of the country!
In the name of foreign direct investment, what is happening is foreign direct outflow.
When this is the reality, how will the Make in India programme help our country?
From 1991 onwards, the programmes and the policies under the Government of India's free market economy have destroyed the entire Indian industry.
At that time, if our exports were about 85 per cent of our production in the MSME (Micro Small and Medium Enterprises) sector, it fell to nothing.
About 50 lakh (5 million) MSMEs were closed down and 85 per cent of the workers were on the roads begging for their existence.
This happened because of the policies of our various governments, right from Narasimha Rao to Narendra Modi.
All the governments are following the same policies which have resulted in the closure of the entire manufacturing sector.
After making all your industries close down, you are inviting industries from foreign countries to come here and start units under the Make in India programme.
First of all, why did you let all the industries in the manufacturing sector close down?
It was the MSME sector that gave employment to 85 per cent of our workers.
Was it not because of the cheap Chinese goods flooding the Indian market that most of the industries in the MSME sector had to close down?
Yes. There was some restriction in imports earlier. There was a list of 1,429 items and no foreign company or MNC or any big Indian company could manufacture those items.
But the restriction was withdrawn by Narasimha Rao. All the governments that came after also followed the same policy and that killed Indian manufacturing sector in the MSME sector.
There is no manufacturing at all in this sector now.
Gradually, imports became more and exports came down resulting in an economic imbalance.
When liberalisation started in 1991, the assurance given by the government and later on by various governments was that there will be a trickle down, and the gap between the haves and have nots will come down...
Do you see the gap closing down?
We see that the gap is increasing day by day; the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer.
Is that why you call the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government's economic policies capitalist?
Yes. All the governments, right from Narasimha Rao to the current prime minister, are following the same policies. There is absolutely no difference.
Did you have hopes of any change when Modi came to power?
During the elections, he was saying one thing and once elected, he is saying something else.
Today, no trade union of this country, no worker of this country is hoping anything good from this government.
In the last two-and-a-half years, the government has not done nothing for the workers.
Indian industrialists say if the economic atmosphere is good, they will be able to create more jobs in the country which will benefit workers.
Till now, what have the Indian industrialists done for the workers?
What type of atmosphere do they want from this government or other governments?
They want lenient labour laws for the industry to grow.
When industry grows, there will be more employment opportunities for people...
As a trade union person, I will give you one example.
When an industrialist or the owner of a factory suspends a worker, we take the case to the labour department.
It takes 5 to 6 years for reference that there is a dispute between the worker and the management.
It is only after that the case is referred to the tribunal.
In a small state, there is one tribunal and in the medium states, there are 2 to 3 tribunals.
In India, there are 50 to 60 such tribunals and there are 250 to 300 labour courts.
Lakhs and lakhs of cases are pending in the labour courts and the tribunals because there are no presiding officers in any of the courts.
No state government is appointing any presiding officer or judge in any of the courts.
The fact is we do not get any justice from any labour court or tribunal.
It takes 30 to 35 years to get a judgment in most of the cases and by then the man is gone from this world and it is their grandsons and granddaughters who get the benefit.
When this is the situation, how can they say labour laws are stringent?
If these industrialists are saying they cannot create jobs because of stringent labour laws, it is unfortunate.
Are you saying that laws are against the labour?
No. The laws are not against the labour. They are not being executed properly.
When in Australia, Modi said he would be very happy if he could delete one law every day.
It was after hundreds of years of struggle that these laws were created.
Now the government is doing away with one law after another in the name of labour law reforms.
We are against what he is doing and all the trade unions of this country told the government that in the name of labour law reforms, they could not do anything against the labour force.
If this happens, the entire labour class would turn against them.
We are not against codification of the law, but we are against introducing new clauses in the name of codification.
Even the International Labour Organisation says in the name of globalisation, anti-labour activities are taking place all over the world.
An international agency said that 69 per cent of the labour force in India and China are out of jobs after globalisation and liberalisation.
In all his speeches, Modi says he has started many projects for the benefit of the poorer sections of society...
We do not know what benefit the poorer sections are getting.
They just say we do this and that for the poor and the farmers.
I agree that they called us for a dialogue last year and they said they had listed a few things they had done including increasing the minimum wage.
You had said then that you were not happy with the increase in the minimum wage...
It is good that at least there is an increase of Rs 100 from Rs 240 to Rs 350 a day.
The problem is when the prices of food items have gone up so much, this raise of Rs 100 is not enough, we said.
We wanted Rs 18,000 a month for unskilled workers, but the government declared only Rs 10,500. How can I be happy then?
Overall, how do you assess the Modi government's performance?
To some extent, the Modi government is a little better than the other governments, still it has done very little only for the labour class.
In fact, we expected a lot from Modi as this man is from a poor family.
We thought he would do a lot, but we feel the poor people of this country have been cheated.