Existing economic system antagonistic to model envisioned by B.R. Ambedkar.
- Attempts are also being made to (mis)appropriate Ambedkar by parties, organisations and individuals for their own interests without making effort to embody his principles of socio-cultural justice and economic fairness.
- A critical examination of present developments reveal that these are only celebration of Ambedkar’s zeal, keeping electoral gains in mind.
- Most of these have been unaware of Ambedkar’s anti-caste and anti-patriarchal vision and some seem to deliberately ignore his world-view on economic equality, fairness and justice.
- It would be worthy to revisit some salient features of his works on economic democracy to draw lessons for today.
Works of Babasaheb
- 1928: Babasaheb struggled to get the Maternity Benefit Bill passed in the Bombay Legislative Council.
- Later taken up by Madras Legislative Council in 1934.
- 1942: changed work time to eight hours per day from earlier 12 hours.
- Ironically, current dispensation, during pandemic, wanted to bring back the 12 hours of work a day norm.
- Process of contractualisation and informalisation/casualisation of labourers has widened economic inequality between employer and employee and between high paid permanent employees and low paid regular, contractual and temporary employees.
- Contract workers have increased from 15.5% in 2000-01 to 27.9% in 2015-16 even in the organised manufacturing sector.
- In States such as Bihar, Uttarakhand and Odisha, majority of organised manufacturing workforce is contractual.
- Despite prohibition under Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, contract workers are being paid lower salary/wage for the same work.
- This is violation of law and Article 141 of Constitution, as observed by SC in 2016.
- Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data (2017-18): Among regular workers, 45% were paid less than ₹10,000 a month and 72% were paid below ₹18,000 a month.
- Emergence of new classes and new contradictions threatens democratic existence and secular fabric of country.
- Ambedkar was clear that continued existence of inequalities and tyranny of majority will be death knell of Indian democracy.
Adhering to the principles
- Ambedkar established equal pay for equal work irrespective of gender as a member of the Viceroy’s Council.
- Included this as part of DPSP in Indian Constitution.
- Women still continue to receive on average between ₹70 to ₹90 a day, less than men as both formal and informal workers.
- Informal workers constitute 93% of formal and informal sector workforce in India.
- Four labour codes are going to worsen the situation of workers.
- One of these codes - Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (IRC) infringes upon right to strike, which was recognised by Ambedkar as one of the fundamental rights of workers.
- Other contributions of Ambedkar: institutionalising laws related to worker’s insurance, minimum wages, worker’s welfare, etc.
- It is high time we stand by his ideals.
- Reasons behind Ambedkar’s interest in economic and labour rights
- He strongly argued for simultaneously addressing substantive question.
- He was believer in both economic and social justice.
- He argued for nationalisation of key and basic industries, the agriculture and insurance sectors.
- Wanted the State to allocate agriculture land only on tenancy basis to people for collective farming.
- On-going monetisation/sell-off/privatisation of airports, Indian Railways, BSNL/ MTNL, LIC, public sector banks and other public sector organisations are assaults on economic democracy.
- Labour was placed under Concurrent list in the Indian Constitution.
- Labour Investigation Committee and Labour Commissioners’ were instituted by Babasaheb to mitigate condition of workers within the existing law.
- Union and State governments must take step to stall privatisation spree and undertake necessary measures to get the four labour codes repealed.
- Take pro-active measures to follow vision of democracy — social, economic and political.
- Without adhering to Ambedkar’s ideals and merely appropriating the icon is just another pretext to divert people’s attention from everyday materiality.