THE nation-wide Bandh called by the central trade unions on February 20 and 21 was a sort of referendum against the economic policies of the government. The common-man finds increasing number of holes in his pocket and he is not sure whether his job is safe or not amidst stagnant or decelerating industrial production.
The result-immense inconvenience to the people, mostly in big cities and work disruption shaving Rs 25,000-30,000 crore from the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government and a section of the industry would blame the unions for causing loss to the national economy, but the fault lies mostly on the ruling regime.
After all, it has been for months that all the apex unions were serving notices to the Labour Ministry and other related ministries warning of strike if no course correction was effected to the economic policies.
However, the ruling coalition not only kept ducking their protest, it also under-estimated the bargaining power of the working class. The government took the unions for granted savouring a common but misplaced perception that the union movement in the country has lost its prowess. Well, it may be true to some extent, but people do react, when it bites them hard.
The policies being pursued by the UPA Government have really hit the common-man hard even when it is trying to re-fill its empty coffers by selling the ‘family silver’ in the form of blue-chip PSUs .
Purchasing power of the rupee has been eroded so much in the last four to five years that a hundred rupee note is spent by a person in a city like Delhi just on commuting from home to work place. But then, we have a Chief Minister who says that Rs 600 a month is good enough to feed a family of five in the national capital.
The trade unions have concerns which are genuine enough and cannot be brushed aside. Rising prices hits everybody, even the industry but it affects the poor man and working class at lower strata the most. Economists call inflation as another form of a tax which is cruel to the poor. On the other hand, the wages are not increasing at the pace to cover up rising prices. The concern on wages of rural labour not keeping pace was recently raised by Nobel laureate Amratya Sen.
The second issue raised by the trade unions is disinvestment of the PSUs , targets for which are sought to be raised year after year. It may be raised to Rs 40,000 crore for the fiscal 2013-14. The issue is not disinvestment per se, but the purpose for which the government is selling its stake in some of the best performing companies like NTPC. The sole purpose is to somehow bring the empty treasury to a respectable level. Otherwise, there is a big threat of the country being reduced to a junk status by the global rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor . Who is to be held accountable for emptying the treasury ? Is it mere the slow economic growth or the profligacy of the establishment.?
The issue does not end here. There is all likelihood that Finance Minister P Chidambaram will yield to pressure of the Congress Party and some of the UPA allies to come out with a populist Budget so that they can ride on this vehicle in the 2014 general elections.
Like they did in the penultimate year of UPA one, clamour has already begun for a second tranche of waiver of farmers’ loans. The demand is coming from some of the central ministers at a time when the PSU banks are battling rising non-performing assets. No wonder then, the danger for India getting the junk investment grading by global agencies is real.
The two-day strike has had a crippling effect on the economy which is dwindling in any case. The worst hit were the sectors like banking, finance, transport which are lifelines of the economy. The losses have been estimated between Rs 25,000-30,000 crore to the economy. The government could have avoided this, provided it had a will.