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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 40, New Delhi, September 21, 2019

Deconstructing “Resurgent India”

Monday 23 September 2019, by Arup Kumar Sen

The Development Monthly, Yojana, published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, has recently published an issue titled “Resurgent India.” (September 2019) It is claimed in the editorial: India today is consistently progressing and moving forward to attain newer heights in numerous sectors such as infrastructure, innovation, space technology, resource conservation and so on...The wheels of transformation are thus moving towardsparadigms that make the government an “enabler” and not a mere “provider.”

The ground reality of our economy tells us a different story. To put it in the words of an IndiaToday report (September 16, 2019) on our economy: “...there is a wide and growing consensus that we are in the midst of a dangerously protracted slowdown”.

The crisis of the economy is most pronounced in the automobile sector. A recent study by the State Bank of India has estimated that 70 per cent of the workforce in the automobile component industry is employed on a contractual basis, and observed that the overall automobile sector has already shed about 10-15 per cent of its workforce. (Frontline, September 13, 2019) According to industry estimates, auto-makers, component manufacturers and dealers have already laid off about 350,000 workers since the start of the year, in response to plunging car sales. (The Telegraph, September 5, 2019)

The crisis in the automobile sector is reflected in the everyday life of workers. Small businesses in the towns and villages around Manesar, Haryana, home to one of the factories of the automobile giant, Maruti Suzuki, have witnessed a fall-off in trade. A grocer doing business in the area said: “There are already fewer workers in the village and those who still have jobs are either not getting paid for working overtime or are not spending much out of fear they may lose work and need the money.” Similar is the story of a shoe seller in Manesar’s Aliyar village, who has days when he does not make a single sale. The narrow lanes in Aliyar and Kasan villages in Manesar would usually be packed on Sundays with migrant workers employed at the nearby plants enjoying their day-off, but that is no more the case. Laid-off workers are returning back to their villages and putting more pressure on the rural economy. Let us listen to the story of 26-year-old Gurmeet Singh, who had been earning Rs 10,000 a month until he lost his job at auto component maker Bellsonica in Manesar. Back in his hometown of Ambala in Haryana, Singh is still looking for a job and facing a bleak future. To put it in his own words: “I haven’t had a hair cut in months, my shoes are torn and I’ve been using the same pair of clothes since I lost my job. Only I know how I am surviving.” (The Telegraph,ibid, for the above testimonies) The Vice- President of the Bellsonica Auto Component India Employees Union, Ajit Singh, said that the production of the Company, which is a Tier-1 supplier to Maruti Suzuki, has declined to almost 30 per cent over the last 10 months and 400 contractual workers have been sent home. The job loss in the automobile sector has hit hard the local economy of the villages in Gurugram and the Industrial Model Township (IMT) in Manesar, which depend mostly on the income from these workers. (The Hindu, September 7, 2019)

The micro story of Manesar is not an isolated one. A recent issue of Frontline (September 13, 2019) has documented the macro crisis in the automobile sector in India with factual details. The title page message of the issue is worthy of mention: “The Indian automobile industry faces its worst slump in two decades but the government’s response reflects an inability to recognise it as a symptom of a larger crisis in the economy.”

The crisis in the automobile production sector is accompanied by a crisis in the field of distribution. “With over 300 dealers shutting shop and 200,000 personnel losing jobs in the past few months, the dealership fraternity is under tremendous pressure to remain viable amidst a sustained slide in volumes.” (The Economic Times, September 5, 2019)

The deep crisis in the automobile sector in India hints at a larger economic crisis, which has deeper socio-political implications.

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