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Understanding Human Development

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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Disturbing Media Trends

Y
our editorial “Big Business Weds Big Media” (EPW, 28 January 2012) commenting on the Reliance/Network18 deal has raised one of the central issues regarding media pluralism and democracy in India, in particular, and modern capitalist societies, in general.

The regime of state control of radio and TV in India in the pre-1991 era allowed manipulation by the central government of the form and content of news coverage especially at critical moments in the country’s recent political history such as the Emergency and Operation Blue Star (see my “AIR and Doordarshan Coverage of Punjab after Army Action”, EPW, 8 September 1984).

The post-1991 era of neo-liberal structuring of Indian institutions is creating favourable conditions in the opposite direction, i e, excessive control by big business houses. Both types of media regimes are against the values of pluralism, dissent and democracy.

Amartya Sen’s work on famines has highlighted the important role of media freedom in prevention of famines and of media control in hiding and accentuating famines. The Stalinist regimes smothered democracy through monopolist control of media by the State, and many of the advanced capitalist societies have witnessed the haemorrhage of democracy through the control of media by big business.

The Leveson Enquiry in the UK set up in the wake of phone hacking by big media empires such as Rupert Murdochowned News International is bringing to light the corrupting power of media control in influencing politicians, police and the general public. EPW has correctly drawn attention to the damaging role of Berlusconi control of media for Italian politics and society.

The issues EPW has raised in the editorial deserve wide circulation and attention of all those interested in preventing the weakening of democratic institutions by the increasing trend of big business control of media in India.

Pritam Singh

Oxford

february 18, 2012

Understanding Human Development

T
his letter has reference to Achin Chakraborty’s comment on the India Human Development Report (IHDR) 2011 (“Human Development: How Not to Interpret Change”, EPW, 17 December 2011), the response and rejoinder that followed (“A Rejoinder”, EPW, 28 January 2012).

I wish to add briefly to these “conversations”. While Chakraborty is rightly concerned about the “serious mistakes in interpreting the change”, my worry is about the “conceptual framework around a feedback loop model” which the authors of the report consider important for understanding the change. The authors sum up the model in a triangle with economic growth marked at the top point of the triangle and human capital formation and income poverty reduction on the two sides of the triangle all connected in a mutually reinforcing manner.

Strictly speaking, this is neither inclusive growth nor social inclusion. When there is higher economic growth in an economy but a growing unequal distribution of income and wealth, reduction in income poverty is not a socially inclusive process. Given the subtitle of the report, “Social Inclusion”, a meaningful articulation is to provide a definition and some discussion of the concept. This is particularly important because there is a prolific and definitely profound literature including a long essay by Amartya Sen in 2000 entitled “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application and Scrutiny”.

The assumed nexus between economic growth and income poverty reduction is a questionable (and indeed seriously questioned) one. As Sen reminds us, what is important is to focus on impoverished lives that people live rather than on depleted wallets. Ordinary readers may remain confused with the report’s summary of its concept:

In the context of feedback loops, this Report attempts to highlight whether certain sections of Indian society suffer from multiple deprivations and hence fail to enjoy the benefits of these feedback loops (India Human

vol xlviI no 7

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

Development Report (2011): 2) (emphasis

added).

Again it is naïve to consider social inclusion or inclusive growth as a binary model, as between those who are included and those who are not. The terms on which you are included are more important than the head-counting of the included.

It is also not clear why the second report of the IHDR makes no reference to the first National Human Development Report 2001 which inspired a series of state-level reports in the past.

M A Oommen

Thiruvananthapuram

Reliance Workers’ Strike

O
ver 5,000 workers of Reliance Textile Industries in Naroda, Gujarat, have been on strike since 2 February 2012 to protest a highly exploitative wage structure and abysmal working conditions. Spread over 120 acres and with assets of over Rs 300 crore, this plant is India’s “most modern textile complex” (according to the World Bank) and Reliance’s first manufacturing facility set up by Dhirubhai Ambani in 1966. The company posted its highest ever turnover of over $44 billion and its net profit increased to $3.6 billion last year.

But on a recent visit to the plant in Naroda, we heard workers in the factory say their lives are getting cheaper by the day. There are about 1,100 permanent and 4,000 contract workers in the plant. The workers report that while the company’s profits have increased, the wages for the workers and karigars have remained more or less the same for years, whereas the salary of the staff has increased many times.

While the permanent workers earn a paltry Rs 5,000-6,000 per month, the contract workers are paid Rs 85-100 per day. No legality of payment in terms of payslips, etc, is maintained, only a voucher is signed. Overtime is paid in a single rate, while strict surveillance is maintained and late entry into the factory is severely punished.

For the last two decades there have been two unions in the plant. One is Majdoor Mahajan, part of the union that

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
february 18, 2012

was originally established by M K Gandhi after the Bombay textile strike of the 1920s, and the other is Mill Mazdoor Sabha, affiliated to the Hind Mazdoor Sabha. The striking workers claim that these unions are corrupt and act as “extended office of the management”.

Every three years, a settlement is brokered between these two unions and the management, but workers do not even get to know of the deal brokered. No notice is put up. Four years back, both these unions even agreed to accept that there will be no recess hour for the workers to have tea. So the workers were henceforth forced to have tea on the way to the bathroom, and in the location of work in an unhygienic and dirty atmosphere, so that work is not disturbed and time “better managed”.

Even so, the company website says that it “endeavours to create a workplace where every person can realise his or her full potential”.

Since workers went on strike from the second shift of 2 February 2012 the management has used all tricks to delegitimise the strike and break it. Deployment of the police, intimidation, arrest of workers’ leaders and a media campaign which says that the workers are only miffed for not being allowed to carry mobile phones inside the factory have all been used.

On the first day of the strike itself, Chief Minister Narandra Modi’s willing police forced the striking workers away from the factory gate, and when they assembled in the shamshanghat complex, around 20 minutes away, they were forced out of there too. Declaring the strike illegal, and arresting the leaders, the police has posted itself in the factory gate.

The workers, now organised as the Reliance Employees Union, have submitted a 16-point demand list to the management. Their demands include a 60% hike in wages and regularisation of contract workers besides double rate overtime, a 20% increase in bonus, increase of the daily wage of contract workers to Rs 200 per day, renewal of a fixed salary system, tea-snacks in the canteen, no fine for being 10 minutes late, accident forms to be filled up according to procedure, an end to harassment of

vol xlviI no 7

workers, and an assurance that striking workers will not be fired and no deduction of wage for the strike period will be made. The workers we met specifically stressed the abusive language of the management staff.

Disregarding all these demands, the management has resorted to the use of the police, arrest, intimidation and disinformation on the striking workers and their leaders, and are now bringing in temporary workers from outside, paying them Rs 400-500 per day, to show that the plant is running, though at much below its capacity.

Continuing with their anti-worker stance, both the pro-management unions were against the strike, but the majority of the workers emphasised the strong unity among the striking workforce. Sagar Patil, a striking worker, said, “With Rs 9.5 crore, the money we produced, Nita Ambani bought an IPL team. They are making jalsa with our money, but it hurts them to even part a few thousands to us who produce their goods.”

Unfortunately, no trade union or political group or one of the huge number of social sector organisations in Gujarat has even made a statement in favour of the workers till now, but the striking workers continue with their struggle.

Nayan, Parag Krantikari Naujawan Sabha

Delhi

Bourbaki and Economics

K
Vela Velupillai’s article “Bourbaki’s Destructive Influence on the Mathematisation of Economics” (EPW, 21 January 2012) could have been clarified for Indian economists with a note either in the text or as endnote on Bourbaki, which the article did not have. It became clear to me only after I read the Wikipedia piece on Nicolas Bourbaki and learnt what this group of French mathematicians was doing for about 50 years. Indian economists are likely to know fixed point theorems, Ramsey, Debreu, etc, but may not have heard of Bourbaki. U Kalpagam G B Pant Social Science Institute

Allahabad

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