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Home > 2020 > Letter to the Readers – May 9, 2020 – Lockdown Edition no7

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 21, New Delhi, May 9, 2020

Letter to the Readers – May 9, 2020 – Lockdown Edition no7

Saturday 9 May 2020

As one writes these lines, one is struck by the lead news report in all the major newspapers today:

"Sixteen jobless and weary migrant labourers who had dozed off on a railway track after walking nearly 36 kms from Maharashtra’s Jalna, where they used to work in a steel plant, were run over by a goods train at Satana village near Aurangabad on Friday morning (May 8, tragically cutting short what was to be a journey back to their native M.P.

"The deceased were in a group of twenty that set out from Jalna on foot for the Bhusawal railway junction around 160 km away in the hope of catching a train to M.P. The four survivors were also lying on the track, but just managed to get out of arms way.", wrote the Times of India

This tragedy brings into focus the plight of the migrant labourers in present day India which is deeply affected by Corona Virus . . . .

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Modi Government 2.0 is now moving to do away with hard won laws and labour rights and environmental provisions that once governed and protected workplaces, making life easy for the capitalists . . . . who will be laughing their way to the Bank. In the past few years we have heard endless stories of the un-paid loans and debt write-offs to umpteen capitalist firms, who have cheated and manipulated using the contacts with the political elites.

The Coronavirus crisis and lockdown and economic shutdown has left millions without jobs and social situation very vulnerable. At this time the business elites small and big are all being presented as the ‘real’ victims who deserve and economic stimulus from the state and not the workers who have lost salaries and jobs and left in the lurch. And now the state is going overboard in giving out largesse to the business class …

Barely weeks ago the ministry of environment proposed to dilute the Environmental Impact Assessment norms . . . the draft EIA 2020 proposes a relaxation for infrastructure projects which have violated the EIA 2006 norms and extends the validity of environmental clearance in various sectors by several years . . . And now e have just witnessed recent industrial accidents, a gas leak in Vizag, a boiler explosion in Coimbatore and a fire at a paper factory in Raipur. The public seems to have a short memory but should be reminded of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy. The lessons have not been learnt from the previous accidents to ensure a continuous process of safety measures in factories and all workplaces.

BJP state governments in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have set out to do suspend labour laws and protections. Recently official measures were brought in Gujarat state to extend statutory working hours to 12 hours from the long established norm of 8 hours. Now the Uttar Pradesh state has passed an ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of most labour law provisions for the next three years. The ‘Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’ will exempt all establishments, factories and businesses from the purview of all, but four labour laws and one provision of another Act, for a period of three years. (see: https://m.economictimes.com/news/economy/policy/uttar-pradesh-brings-ordinance-to-suspend-most-labour-laws-for-3-years/articleshow/75609934.cms) The Industrial Dispute Act, Act on Occupational Safety and Health, Contract Labour Act, Migrant Labour Act and Equal Remuneration Act are now not operative in UP state for the present.

All these new measures on working conditions in large regions of India are in total violation of International Labour Conventions and let us hope that the country office of the ILO in Delhi will not sit twiddling its thumb but will report these violations.

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Today is May 9, which is being observed around the world and especially the European countries as the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Hitlerite fascism by the Allied Forces represented by the western countries and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Listening to the exploits of the Allied Forces during the Second World War, one was reminded of the experience one had in the former USSR on May 9, 1975 when one encountered a Soviet war veteran at the junction of Kuznetsky Most and Gorky Street in Moscow that very afternoon. The war veteran stopped us while we greeted him for the success of the Soviet troops in the World War. He asked me my age and I replied: "I will turn 30 in August this year." When we asked him what his age was, he replied smilingly, "thirty years. I was reborn after the war on May 9, 1945."

And we were also reminded of the poignant war poem of celebrated Soviet poet, Konstantin Simonov, ’Wait for me and I will Return.’

Yesterday, May 8, was also observed as the 160th birthday of poet Rabindranath Tagore, whose famous Crisis in Civilisation, written and read out in May 1941 on the occasion of his 80th birthday remains etched in our memory. Towards the end of this address he declared: " As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilisation strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises. A day will come when unvanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage."

These words offer immense strength and inspiration in a world which is threatened of death and destruction by Covid-19 that shows no sign of abating in the near future.

May 9 The Editor

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