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Mainstream, VOL L, No 14, March 24, 2012

Corporate India and Poverty in Bharat

Editorial

Tuesday 27 March 2012, by SC

The unprecedented Dinesh Goswami episode is over. The Trinamul Congress’ nominee for the post of the Railway Minister, Mukul Roy, a close confidant of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister in charge of the portfolio on March 20 after Dinesh was forced to resign on March 18 due to Mamata’s dogged opposition to his continuance in office—stemming from her annoyance with him for the former Railway Minister’s decision to go for across-the-board passenger fare-hike (that militated against the TMC’s avowed policy of refraining from any such step). Subsequently Mukul piloted the Railway Budget in both Houses of Parliament. And in the end what was adopted, in the face of the MPs’ pressure (to which the Trinamul members added their full weight), was a Railway Budget bereft of fare-hikes for daily passengers as well as those travelling by ordinary and/or AC 3-tier Sleeper; but those fares that had been increased for passengers travelling by AC First Class as also AC 2-tier Sleeper have not been slashed.

Mukul Roy having dutifully carried out Mamata’s directive on this score, she is being predictably attacked by the corporate-driven media subscribing to the neoliberal paradigm of development. No doubt Mamata should be severely criticised and even attacked if she deserves so, and several of her impulsive comments merit such criticism. But minus the knee-jerk reaction on her part in the present case, she cannot be taken to task on the substative issue of fare-hike as she knows fully well the kind of burden any fare increase would place on the common man travelling in a train. Moreover modernisation of the railways cannot be carried out only by hiking freight and passenger fares since the railway administrators are well aware of the need to adopt other measuress to mobilise resources for railway modernisation and safety.

Incidently Mamata herself told a TV channel in New Delhi that “since we had already increased freight fares quite a lot before the Budget we felt there was no need for any hike in passenger fares”. In any case such increases could not meet the requisite sum for ensuring modernisation and enhancing safety, she added, thus torpedoing the very idea of fare-hike.

However, the vehement opposition from the corporate-driven media to the roll-back of fares gives a measure of the corporates’ hostility towards Mamata. This hostility took concrete shape when she opposed and prevented the operationalisation of FDI in multi-brand retail and it has gradually grown to reach serious proportions. This also mirrors the strength and clout the corporate lobbies have acquired over the years.

Meanwhile one of the architects of the govern-ment’s economic policies that unveiled the reform process in 1991, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is in the eye of a storm with the data released by the Commission on March 19 showing that poverty had significantly declined by 7.3 percentage points between 2004-05 and 2009-10 from 37.2 per cent to 29.8 per cent. These figures are based on the new poverty line fixed at Rs 22.42 per person per day (that is, daily per capita consumption) in rural areas and Rs 28.65 per person per day in the urban areas. The latest poverty threshold introduced by the Commission is even lower than what it submitted to the Supreme Court last year—it had then set the cut-off mark of per capita expenditure at Rs 28 per day in the rural areas and Rs 32 per day in the urban areas.

This report by the Commission evoked vociferous protests in the Lok Sabha with the Opposition MPs denouncing the data and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is now close to the Congress, demanding that the PM as the Commission’s Chairman should sack Ahluwalia from his post of the Deputy Chairman. Mocking at Ahluwalia and his colleagues in the Commission he contested the data saying: “They (the Commission members) do not have any idea of village or rural life. They live in AC rooms and make the reports on the basis of reading some papers.”

Several publications have also assailed the entire exercise of the Planning Commission describing the poverty figures as a “huge joke” with one newspaper (The Asian Age) noting: “This makes a joke even of the concept of ‘inclusive growth’. Perhaps the architects of these figures should go and live in BPL villages for a month to see how people can live with these paltry amounts.”

This is the situation in Bharat about which corporate India now controlling the levers of power have little interest. But what about the other side of the picture? According to The Times of India of today, the CAG in a draft report has observed that the government extended “undue benefits” totalling Rs 10.67 lakh crores (six times the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crores lost to the exchequer in the 2G spectrum scam) to commercial entities by granting them 155 coal acreages without auction from 2004 to 2009, the beneficiaries being about 100 private companies as well as some PSUs in power, steel and cement. One of the beneficiaries, a well-known businessman and MP of the ruling party at the Centre, says that the CAG could have its own view but whether it was his enterprise or any other private company “they are all Indian entities and creating wealth for the country”.

So if they are “creating wealth for the country”, it is implied, they are entitled to those “undue benefits” resulting in a massive loss to the national exchequer! And it is such persons who acquire special privileges and prominence under the Manmohan Singh dispensation!

In this setting is it any wonder that Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s Planning Commisson would try its level best to show how much poverty has been removed under the UPA regimes so as to conceal the widening rich-poor divide (which is the stark ground-reality)?

March 22 S.C.

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