Archive for May, 2022

Archana Aggarwal[1]

Prashant is in his late thirties. Before the Covid pandemic, he used to run a small paint shop with around ten workers. Like many others, he faced hardship during the pandemic and the lockdown, and he had to shut down his ‘factory’, since he could not pay the workers. Even earlier, he sometimes did a few deliveries for Swiggy. But after the closure of his factory, he became completely dependent on Swiggy for his livelihood. He works for eleven hours a day, every day of the week including Sundays. He manages to feed his family only if he works through the month. He can manage because he lives with his parents in a self-owned house, and his father had retired with a pension.

Naresh is an Uber driver. He had lost his steady job of many years (in a company as a driver) in May 2020. He was replaced by a much lower paid contract worker. The landlord of his rented house in Delhi extended him credit for five months, enabling him to stay on in Delhi. However, he had to send his family back to their native village, where his extended family has a bit of land. Naresh rented a car and onboarded himself as an Uber driver. After paying the rental for the car, he is able to earn Rs 500 to 600 per day and survive in the city. However, he does not make enough to be able to bring his family back to Delhi.

Vijay, also an Uber driver, has a different experience. His father works in an established press, his brother has a job and he lives in a joint family which owns five properties in Delhi. He owns the car used as an Uber cab, and his earnings from Uber supplement the family income.

Zeeshan does odd jobs in an office, where he gets a salary of Rs 25,000 per month. Five days a week, he logs in as an Uber driver for a few hours after his office. This brings him additional income.

Gig workers, such as food delivery riders and app-based cab drivers, are increasingly becoming one of the most visible faces of urban employment. In the urban areas, many turned to gig work after losing existing employment during the pandemic.[2] The gig economy, or platform economy, is increasingly becoming a significant means of livelihood for literate men (and a few women) who have enough resources to own a smart phone and to buy or hire a car or a two-wheeler.

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— Rahul Varman

Thirty workers were reported to have been killed on the afternoon of May 13, 2022, when an electronic goods assembly factory in the Mundka industrial area of Delhi caught fire. Most of those killed were young women, and almost all of them were migrant workers. They had come all the way to toil in the nation’s capital for a measly sum of Rs 6500 – 7500 per month. For a day or two, newspapers carried reports on the incident. Now the incident, like the young victims, has disappeared without a trace.

Collective Delhi’ has brought out a significant report on the Mundka factory fire. It shows that such ‘accidents’ in Delhi itself are a regular occurrence, and summarises information about 18 such incidents since the 1997 fire in Uphaar Cinema in New Delhi, when 59 members of a film audience were killed. The response of the administration seems to have a pattern – immediate tweets and statements by the likes of the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, expressing their ‘anguish’ and ‘shock’; a perfunctory arrest of the immediate owners of the property or those running the establishment; and some token amounts to the families, depending upon the visibility that the incident gains. For instance, as middle class lives were lost in the Uphaar Cinema fire, the compensation amount was way above whatever workers have got over the years for losing their lives. And once the issue fades away from media and memory, it is business as usual. That means no due diligence by the safety authorities, no systemic remedies from the concerned to prevent such accidents, no attempts to invest in a system that can hold anyone accountable for their (lack of) safety practices. Finally, such incidents are termed ‘accidents’, as if nothing could have been done to prevent such casualties.

: Ease of Doing Violations: Collective Delhi’s Report on the Mundka Factory Fire and the Pattern of Criminal Negligence in Delhi’s Industrial Areas (more…)

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On May 13, the Modi government suddenly announced a ban on the export of wheat, after promoting it actively for two months. While this step has been widely criticised, the criticism has been largely from a neoliberal standpoint, not from the standpoint of people’s interests. Even those who have made legitimate criticisms of the Modi government’s steps on the export of wheat have tended to focus on the boastfulness and incompetence of the Government. What needs highlighting, however, is that the debacle was the result of Government policy.

Starting in February 2022, the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Commerce Minister, the Food Secretary, and various other officials declared that India would fill the void left by the exit of Russian and Ukrainian wheat from the world market; it would export 10 million tonnes of wheat and perhaps even more; indeed it could feed the world if the World Trade Organisation would allow it to do so. The Government slashed its public procurement target from 44 million tonnes to just 19.5 million tonnes. The Indian Railways added extra wagons for the transport of wheat, and the government of Madhya Pradesh waived mandi taxes on wheat to promote exports. On May 12 itself – one day before the ban – the Ministry of Commerce announced it would send trade delegations to nine countries to explore the possibility of boosting wheat exports from India.

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