Cattle trade ban: another disruptive action by Centre

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

The order of the Central government banning sale of cattle in public markets for slaughter is another disruptive measure of Modi government after demonetisation. It will strengthen the organised sector to the detriment of the unorganised sector.

Of course, it has political objectives as the decision will please the Sangh Parivar outfits. The decision will be hitting a large number of people, including middlemen, who are engaged in trading of cattle and meat. A large section of them are Muslims. This will provide political capital for the BJP to go for its larger objectives.

The ban has been brought in a devious manner under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as the Centre did not have powers to regulate trade in meat directly. That power rests with the State governments.  Reasons being offered by various quarters for banning trade in cattle for slaughter through markets such as Supreme Court order, need to prevent cruelty against animals and ensuring of the source of meat (traceability) are bogus or devious.

The Supreme Court order did not say that trade through markets should be banned. It will not ensure benign treatment of animals. Traceability of meat reaching slaughter houses could have been ensured through the market mechanism itself. (Note that the farmers are now required to produce several documents to trade in cattle). Ensuring traceability of both agricultural and meat products is a positive measure towards consumer protection and food safety. However, it is wrong to argue that traceability could be ensured by bypassing the market.

The BJP government do plan to ensure traceability and that is the larger story. As the meat business moves into big hands, their sourcing would become traceable. They will do it for their own interest and enforcement of regulation in this respect is easy.

However, small traders, their workmen and farmers who have to sell cattle for slaughter will be the victims. Like demonetisation, the results are not entirely predictable. Middlemen will find new ways to carry on their trade. A new network may emerge for purchase of cattle for slaughter from homesteads. However, the shift will hit those in the business of meat trade on a small scale and farmers at least in the short term. Farmers will not get remunerative prices until a mechanism that could fetch them competitive prices emerge. Prices of even the draught cattle sold though markets may come down as prices in markets are determined, to a great extent, by the value of meat.

However, meat prices are not going to come down. In fact, it is likely to go up in States such as Kerala, which is dependent on inter-State movement of cattle for slaughter, owing to shortages. These movements could be stalled because of restrictions imposed by the Centre.

The requirement of documentation will dissuade farmers from selling even draught animals through market. Eventually, cattle markets, as we know today, may die out with mechanisation of farm sector, and the trade will pass on to organised sector.

The net effect of all these is that meat production will move into the hands of meat production and marketing companies. The positive and negative effect of this shift is another issue. The point is that the measure will cause disruption affecting thousands of ordinary folk. The Centre had done it without even consulting the State or arriving at a consensus.

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Opposition parties in the State are protesting against the measure on the ground that it hurts people’s food choices. This is not very true as sale of meat has not been banned, though Kerala may face some shortages of meat on a short-term.

It is high time that the politicians cared to study the larger objectives and implications of the Central government’s policy before reacting to this. In a country like India, a quick shift of meat from unorganised to organised sector is not desirable. The farmers are already committing suicides owning to wrong policies followed by governments. Similar thing is going to happen to small traders though we can expect that they would be resourceful enough to survive.

As to the farmers who find it difficult to market their cattle for slaughter at remunerative prices, formation of cooperatives on the model of Amul may be an option. Kerala government will be better advised to develop such a cooperative set up instead of going for a legal battle with the Central government. This is not to say that the government should not oppose the Central government’s policy.

Journalistic values: Stinging without ethics

A. K. SaseendranWhen media coverage of ISRO spy case peaked out, a senior journalist faced some critical questions in a television programme about media coverage of the case. The correspondent explained that news reports are called ‘stories’ in English. That translates into ‘Kadha’ (fiction) in Malayalam. What we do are stories, he asserted.

The journalist was later elected as president of the Trivandrum Press Club. That leader of journalists is none other than the present CEO of Mangalam television channel R. Ajithkumar who is now in the middle of controversy over the channel’s ‘sting’ operation.

If you do not have good grasp of journalistic principles, you are bound to flounder in doing a sting operation which is a tight rope walk on journalistic ethics.  Where Mangalam television erred seriously was in misrepresentation of facts. Its story claimed that Transport Minister A. K. Saseendran’s conversation aired by it was with a housewife.

Confident of success of its manipulation, the CEO told another channel later that his reporters were not involved, only to be forced to make a retreat later. He admitted that it was a sting operation by its staff member.

It is also notable that the reporter concerned did not present the story herself as done in legitimate sting operations.  Besides, what she was telling the Minister was edited out.

Apparently, the channel was not keen to probe further to find out whether the Minister would be willing to misuse his office and grant undue favours for sexual favours. Going by the details that have come out, it was just a honey trap, and what we get is a glimpse of a side of the Minister’s character that, at best, raises questions of propriety and morality. Its prime purpose was to tickle and create a sensational debut for the channel.  There was little legitimacy for the story. Professionalism was absent.

The judicial enquiry ordered by the government is a fair attempt at fact finding though one cannot be optimistic about what ultimately would happen to the recommendations of the judicial commission, given the history of such commissions.  (Reports of several commissions are gathering dust at the Government Secretariat.)

Considering importance of freedom of the Press and larger interests of media and society, it is better for the government not to use police to probe the issues until the judicial commission submits its recommendations. However, police investigation into specific and credible complaints from individuals need not wait.

Tailpiece:  The election of Ajithkumar, whose distorted understanding of journalistic ethics was well known to journalists, as president of Press Club, which also runs an Institute of Journalism, points to the fact that the malady is not confined to a single organisation. Till now, there was hardly any peer pressure on journalists in the capital if they breached journalistic ethics. While majority of the journalists in the city are not grossly unethical, many will not mind some favours from those seeking publicity, in disregard to guidelines issued by the Press Council of India.

(Note: An edited version of this opinion piece appeared in Deccan Chronicle on April 9, 2017)

Mullaperiyar: What is Pinarai Vijayan up to?

Pinarayi-Vijayan

Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan

The new Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarai Vijayan has willingly courted controversy in the first week of assuming office itself over Mullaperiyar and other issues.

The essence of his statement on Mullaperiyar was that Kerala will have to take into account the finding of the empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court that the dam was safe and future negotiations would have to be over the report of the committee and its reliability. Secondly, he said that a new dam at Mullaperiyar, which Kerala had proposed as a means to ensure safety of people of five districts in the State, was not possible without cooperation from Tamil Nadu.

Faced with strong opposition to the change in the State’s stand over Mullaperiyar, Mr. Vijayan clarified that the government was still for new dam. What he had said was that it was not possible to build a dam without cooperation from the Centre and Tamil Nadu.

There was no compulsion for Mr. Vijayan to come up with an early policy statement on Mullaperiyar as no decision was pending on the issue that needed immediate attention. He also made a statement in favour of revival of the Athirappally hydroelectric project which is strongly opposed by environmental activists and leaders of the CPI which is a constituent of the ruling coalition, the Left Democratic Front. He could have delayed taking a stand on both the issues if he wanted.

However, he apparently had political and administrative reasons for making statements on Mullaperiyar and Athirappally even at the risk of losing some goodwill. On the face of it, the statements hook his bite noire in the party V. S. Achuthanandan who had adopted stands in favour of new dam and against Athirappally project in the past. There has been a truce between Mr. Achuthanandan and Mr. Vijayan before the elections, and Mr. Achuthanandan, as Leader of the Opposition, led the campaign of the Opposition Front. However, the CPI (M) chose Mr. Vijayan as the Chief Minister.

Mr. Vijayan’s statements come at a time when the party is considering an advisory position with Cabinet rank for Mr. Achuthanandan in the Government. Mr. Vijayan’s camp has already raised the criticism that this would give rise to duel power centres. If Mr. Achuthandnan loudly opposed the policy pronouncements by Mr. Vijayan, that would be proof to support the argument. Being a seasoned politician, Mr. Achuthanandan’s reaction was measured. Yet, there is no certainty that he would get the position he desired.

In a raising a controversy, Mr. Vijayan’s political costs are limited. His party does not have much support in any of the areas that will be directly impacted by failure of Mullaperiyar dam. The sufferer is the CPI which has won seats in areas that would be hit by a failure of the Mullaperiyar dam and impacted by the Athirappally project. CPI had done a sterling performance in this election winning 70 per cent of the seats it contested. The CPI (M) knows that it would have to concede more ground to CPI as CPI comes out of political stagnation in Kerala. So, any damage done to CPI is to its advantage.

There is also speculation that the CPI (M) would like to come closer to AIADMK considering CPI (M)’s diminishing importance at the national level. It is also notable that in Devikulam constituency in Kerala, where there is a Tamil population; AIADMK secured over 11600 votes which was more than twice the margin of victory of the CPI (M) candidate in the constituency.

Apart from political objectives, Mr. Vijayan’s statement is clearly aimed at laying the path for new initiatives. Kerala has nearly exhausted its legal options on Mullaperiyar at least for the time being. The way it conducted the cases before the Supreme Court left a lot to be desired. For example, the Supreme Court made an erroneous observation in its 2006 judgement that the waters would be contained in the Idukki dam downstream in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam. However, Kerala failed to produce the Dam Break Analysis showing that towns and villages and a large population would be washed away, in subsequent litigation in the Court. The previous government then tried to hide reports of the Analysis, which it had commissioned, and other documents relating to the litigation from public by issuing an executive order against releasing documents on Mullaperiyar under Right to Information Act.

Now, Mr. Vijayan needs an opening to drive new policy and this could not be done without admitting the status quo following the Supreme Court orders and the impossibility of building a new dam in the near future. He has to open dialogue with Tamil Nadu. Acknowledging that there is a finding that the dam is safe is first step towards that.
Water for Tamil Nadu and safety for Kerala is slogan raised by the previous government. However, with Tamil Nadu seeking legal options and rejecting the proposal for a new dam, it had only campaign value. Mr. Vijayan has not specified what policy options he would pursue now. He probably has to reconstitute the Mullaperiyar Cell, which failed in its objective, and hold discussions with experts and lawyers before proceeding.

Even before Mr. Vijayan deprecated the proposal for new dam, there was a section of those agitating against the raising of water level in the old dam who argued that the dam should be decommissioned in a phased manner. The decommissioning should be over 50 years or so allowing Tamil Nadu the opportunity to shift its agriculture practices to modern techniques that need less water for irrigation.

Water policy expert Ramaswamy R. Iyer, who was Union Secretary for Water Resources, stated as back as in 2011 that Kerala would be repeating a folly committed more than 100 years ago by building a new dam.

Opinion is growing around the world against large dams and inter-basin diversion of river waters. The Mullaperiyar dam totally cut off flow through river. International covenants now recognise lower riparian rights and the need to allow flow needed maintain ecosystems and activities downstream.

Moreover, Kerala’s stand on impact on the Periyar Tiger Reserve is contradictory. On one side, it argued that the raising of the water level would harm the Reserve. On the other side, it proposed a major construction activity and impounding of water within the protected area.

It is expected that Mr. Vijayan would look into all this and come up with a new approach to the issue.

Tragedies and failure to fix responsibility

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has announced that rules relating to fireworks in places of worship and elsewhere would be made more stringent while announcing judicial probe into the fireworks tragedy at Paravoor.

The announcement was made without waiting for the finding of the enquiry commission or its recommendations on what are the changes needed in the laws. Instead, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) was immediately tasked with the job of proposing changes to the rules and stipulations.

This is part of an attempt the divert attention from the fact that it was not lack of laws but failure to enforce them that had caused the tragedy. The tragedy would not have occurred if the ban order issued by the Additional District Magistrate was carried out.

This is not the first time that governments resort to such gimmicks. Whenever enforcement fails, governments talk of inadequacy of laws. Instances are several such as rape laws and the Goonda Act. The so called strengthening of the legislation often results only in increasing the bribes and political patronage that goes behind violation of the laws. Besides, those without influence get punishments disproportionate to their crimes.

The announcement of enquiry commissions is used by politicians as a ruse to escape from public ire. Inquiries of by judicial commission often drag for years at huge public expenditure and its recommendations are not often carried out. The time taken could help matters to cool down and delay or avoid fixing of responsibility. In fact, failure to fix responsibility is a major factor behind repetition of tragedies in Kerala.

The Paravoor tragedy may claim a toll higher than that of Perumon tragedy which had claimed 106 lives. The enquiry commission failed to dig at the real reason for the accident and blamed it on ‘tornado’ without any basis. When 45 tourists died at Thekkady following boat capsize in 2009, the attempt was to blame it on the driver though the boat was defective. Following enquiry by a judicial commission, changes were brought to inland vessel rules. However, even the stipulation that life jackets should be issued and worn by the tourists is still being ignored at several places.  There are many similar cases like the Kumarakom boat tragedy and enquiry commission report on that.

Now, it will not be a surprise if those who failed to enforce the additional district magistrate ban order against the fireworks display at Peravoor are not taken to task. Poor fireworks contractors who are minor spokes in the giant wheel that drives festivals like that at Paravoor will be punished.

Kerala government undermines right to information

top-secretThe Right to Information Act was enacted to bring transparency in administration and thus check corruption.

Kerala government is hitting at the very root of the legislation by exempting a branch of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau (VACB) from the purview of the Act.

A notification issued by the government a month ago excludes the “top secret section” of the Vigilance from the purview of the Act. All confidential verifications and vigilance enquiries /quick verifications of sensitive nature are done by this section of the VACB.

Those who can hide behind the notification include the Chief Minister, former Chief Ministers, Ministers, former Ministers, members of the Assembly and Parliament and all India service officers. Works related to all surprise checks inclusive that of all India service officers, Chief Minister, former chief ministers, ministers, former ministers, MLAs, MPs are also exempted.  All correspondence made by VACB with Lok Ayukta, Lok Pal, CBI and CVC in connection with any enquiry and investigation as well as all petitions which are already under enquiry/investigation by Lok Ayukta,, Lok Pal, CBI and CVC are covered under the notification.

Interestingly, the notification is issued by a government headed by a Chief Minister who has set up Web cameras in his chamber and office claiming that they would enhance transparency. (That it is a farce is another matter). Moreover, the notification is issued misinterpreting a provision of the RTI Act. Section 24(4) of the Act provides for exclusion of intelligence and security organisations from the purview of the Act. The Government has used this provision to include the ‘T’ branch of the VACB in the schedule of organisations excluded from supplying information under the Act.

But the rider is that the provision applies only to “intelligence and security organisations” notified by the government, and a vigilance bureau is neither. Even if it is accepted for argument’s sake that the VACB is intelligence or security organisation, Section 24(4) specifies that information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded. So, the notification by the government is totally in violation of the Act.

It is just aimed to help corrupt ministers and bureaucrats to buy time from public exposure just before the elections. It is notable that the LDF has not strongly come out against the notification— they are also beneficiaries of the notification.

Related: Mullaperiyar studies are public documents

It was another ordeal for endosulfan victims

endosulfan stir

Endosulfan victims and their mothers on hunger strike before the Secretariat

The hunger strike by endosulfan victims and mothers before Kerala Secretariat ended last week after the Government conceded most of their demands.

However, the demands conceded were the ones that the government had conceded as back as in January 2014 following their dharna before the Chief Minister’s residence. Implementation was lagging and the victims had to launch another stir to get yet another assurance that they would be implemented.

The only concrete gain from the agitation was a specific decision to include about 600 more persons from Kasaragod district under the government’s list for providing compensation. Whether other promises would be kept within the term of the present government is to be seen.

In fact, the approach of successive government to the endosulfan problem had been far from satisfactory. It is more than five years since the National Human Rights Commission recommended compensation and other measures. Still the compensation has not reached all.

Though it was a problem that should have been addressed on a war footing, governments often chose to ignore the problem. It was convenient for them to do so, because the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala was responsible for aerial spraying of endosulfan. None of the officials who were responsible for using such dangerous methods of application of pesticides in a populated area, and that too in excess quantities and over water bodies, were never held accountable.

As to rehabilitative and remediative measures, the government could not even do what the voluntary agencies could. It is notable that even the BUDS schools set up by the government did not have facilities for use by physically challenged persons. Even western closets were absent.

As the water bodies were contaminated, the government took no steps to supply pure drinking water to the affected area for two decades after the problem became known. When Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission was implemented in kasaragod district, the villages chosen for the project were not the endosulfan affected. Decontamination was never attempted. In fact, the remaining stocks of endosulfan with the Corporation are yet to be removed safety from the area.

This blog has said that the settlement two years ago was aimed at fooling the victims. This time also, the situation is only marginally better.

Season of contradictions

 

Vellappally  Natesan leading a march (file photo)

Vellappally Natesan leading a march (file photo)

The season of political marches has started in Kerala with Assembly elections being just six months away. The first to set off from Kasaragod is the Samatwa Munnetta Yatra led by general secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Vellappally Natesan.

The objective of the march is the unity of majority (Hindu) communities. The objective does not quite synchronise with that of Sree Narayana Guru, the founder of the Yogam, who had envisaged a casteless society with the slogan one caste, one religion and one God for man. Mr. Natesan wants to bring all castes ranging from Nayadi to Namboothiri under the umbrella of his proposed political party, but with distinct identities.

Mr. Natesan, who had once tried to form a front of backward classes in association with the Muslim League, is now speaking against Muslim League and other Muslim political outfits such as PDP and Welfare Party in his bid to form “Hindu party”. The problem, however, is all the castes could not agree on the question of reservation. Besides, some are not comfortable with the RSS ideology with which Mr. Natesan is trying to link his new political party.

The CPI (M) too will soon be starting its march across the State, and one of its principal targets will be Mr. Natesan who is trying to wean away the Ezhava community from CPI (M). However, it is yet to decide whether the party secretary would lead the march as in the past. Question is also in the air as to whether former party secretary Pinarai Vijayan or Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan should lead party and the Opposition front in the election campaign. (And in case of victory, who will be the Chief Minister). The choice is crucial because the two leaders differ so much in style and principles.

KPCC president V. M. Sudheeran is also expected to announce a march shortly. His problem will be to resolve the conflicts and contradictions among ruling front constituents and groups within his party. Their differences have been accentuated during the recent elections to the local self governments to such an extent that co-ordination for the coming elections will be an uphill task.

Skeletons are being pushed out in Kerala

posters

LSG election campaign posters in Thiruvananthapuram

Skeletons were not tumbling out but were being pushed out in Kerala as campaign for elections to the local self government intensified.

Election is an occasion when adjustment politics becomes difficult if you are not in alliance. So, every move by one Front or party is to be countered by the other.

In the initial phase of the campaign, the Opposition Left Democratic Front was not speaking much about the bar-bribery case though it had laid waste an entire session of the Assembly over the issue a few months back.

However, when the Vigilance Court directed that the probe into the case should be continued, it was hardly an opportunity to be missed amidst the campaign. As Opposition met even the Governor seeking ouster of Finance Minister K. M. Mani, in view of the court observation that there was prima facie a case against him.

Suddenly, skeletons in the LDF cupboard started falling, or being pulled out. News was leaked that the Vigilance was dropping the corruption case against former Minister Elamaram Kareem in Chakkittappara iron ore mining case. Mr. Kareem was alleged to have received Rs. 5 crore as bribe for granting permission to illegal iron ore mining. The Vigilance reported that Mr. Kareem had not received any bribes and also that the case was obsolete.

The allegations against V. A. Arunkumar, son of Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan, too got a fresh run with news reports that the Vigilance had recommended prosecution of Mr. Arunkumar for financial irregularities in Coirfed where he had been the Managing Director. Apparently, the recommendation was ready to be leaked out at the right moment.

SNDP Yogam General Secretary Vellappally Natesan, who started dreaming of a new political party and cobbled some sort of alliance with the BJP also met with a similar fate. The allegations surrounding the drowning of Swami Swaswathikanda of Sivagiri Mutt suddenly resurfaced with imputations that he had been murdered. Allegations about involvement of Mr. Natesan and his son were made by the very person (Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association Working President Biju Ramesh) who had raised allegations against Mr. Mani also. Obviously, he has Opposition support as CPI (M) would be the worst hit by Natesan’s alliance.

Faced with the allegations and certain uncertainties over the alliance with BJP, Mr. Natesan had to play it on a low key and skip some of the campaign programmes.

Kerala voters are discerning and know that all the skeletons are not phantoms. They have turned up in large numbers to vote and the results are keenly awaited. Which of the skeletons would they recognise as real and react to them is to be seen.

Legislation will formalise harthals

Harthal at ChalaiThe Government is proposing a legislation to bring restriction on organisation of harthals. However, it could very well end up being a piece of legislation granting political parties and other organisations a right to call for harthal. It is proposed that the organisers of harthals should announce it three days in advance.

The government could ban it if it is convinced that there would be the possibility of violence. Forced closure of shops and blocking of movements of people will attract imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of Rs. 10000 or both.

Harthal was a form of direct action devised by Gandhiji to protest against the colonialists and that too against acts like the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. The Congress and its leaders, at that time, were totally committed to non-violence. Only a non-violent organization has the right to call harthal (none of today’s political parties could be classified as one). It is a non-violent mode of protest.

Nobody joins harthals willingly these days. Harthal, called by even minor political parties, is a ‘success’ because there is a threat of violence behind it. So, provisions in the proposed legislation such as one empowering government to ban harthals, if it is convinced that there would be violence, ignores the fact that harthal is inherently violent today. Such a provision will only be a political tool in the hands of successive governments. (Will a ruling party/front in the State ever be ‘convinced’ that there would be violence if it is a harthal against the policies of a Central government under a different party/front?)

So, action should be mandated against any political leader who makes a call for a harthal since threat of violence is inherent in such a call. If some people locally and spontaneously observe a harthal on their own free will over a murder or something like that, let it be countenanced. That is, harthal as such need not be banned, but making a call for harthal through mass media, public address systems and the like should be banned.

This automatically rules out proposals like announcement of harthals three days in advance. Even if such announcements are made, the hardship of people will only be diminished and not eliminated. Even for a journey to Bangalore these days by bus, one has to book a week in advance. (Train/air reservations are made months in advance). Harthal is not a suitable mode of protest in cities that work 24×7. The loss of lives, property and production caused by harthals is significant and will not be mitigated by a notice.

Forced closure of shops and forced restriction on movement of people are actually violation of fundamental rights. There are already provisions in the IPC and other laws to check such acts. Bringing fresh laws is not answer to failure of the government to enforce existing laws. In fact, there is a need to prune the statute book; but recommendations made by law reforms committee and commission are gathering dust.

The Supreme Court and the High Court, which are empowered to enforce fundamental rights even in the absence of laws, have already banned bandhs. The problem now is that the police are not taking cognizance of bandhs masquerading as harthals.

If at all a new law is to be enacted, it should be to define harthal/bandh and ban calling of harthals by political parties and other organisations with its inherent threat of violence. Fine of Rs. 10000 is insufficient as the damage caused by harthals is much more. Victims should be able to claim compensation separately for death, injury and loss of property. Express provisions should be included for this purpose. Provision should also be there for traders to claim compensation against those forcing closure of shops by violent means.

The Government should not formalise a ‘right to call harthals’ by providing for a notice procedure.

Kurinjippoo revolution and its political implications

Munnar town

A view of Munnar town

The strike by women tea estate workers in Munnar in Kerala for bonus, now nicknamed after neelakurinji flowers, was a resounding success. (The workers did not face any police brutality unlike the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia.) Its political implications are significant and will be watched for long.

Notably, it was the recognised trade unions— rather than the tea company (Kannan Devan Hills Plantation), which had to give in to women power as hundreds of unorganised women labourers from the estates thronged the roads of Munnar virtually paralyzing traffic and economic activities in the town including tourism. Politicians and trade union leaders who spoke against them had to eat their words. This was the result of the unions betraying the workers for long.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had to convene urgent meeting with the women’s representatives, keeping away the trade unionists, to settle the strike. The labourers were demanding 20 per cent bonus this year and company was refusing to pay that saying that its profits had come down. However, company is a captive unit of Tata Global Beverages and profits depended on at what prices tea was being sold to the Tata group company.

The argument of the trade unions that the women made a mistake in agreeing to a reduced the bonus component of 8.33 per cent and the balance as ex-gratia has no much merit. They say that next year they would be able to start the negotiations from 8.33 per cent bonus component against 10 per cent promised by the company this year. But, next year’s outcome will depend on what force the women are able to muster next year. However, an immediate concern to them will be forthcoming negotiations on daily wages which is one of the lowest among agricultural labourers in Kerala. The workers are demanding daily wages of Rs. 500 which is about double the current wages. Minimum wages of women agriculture labourers in Kuttanad is Rs. 330 a day while that of men is Rs. 560 a day.

The estates workers may be on the way for substantial gains in this respect as Labour Minister Shibhu Baby John had to swallow his remarks that such a wage level was not feasible in tea plantations. The women labourers are now trying to form a union of their own. They may succeed given their will power. But there is no guarantee that the new union too will not go the way of existing unions which had sacrificed workers’ interests for personal gains of their leaders. May be it is better for the women to remain ‘unorganised’.

However, a crucial development to watch will be whether some of these women will emerge as contestants in the forthcoming panchayat elections. If they do, it could cause considerable worries to the political parties and unions, and rewrite history. Emergence of an alternative to the unions in Munnar like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi could not be ruled out. If that happens, the established political parties will be the losers.

Related:
New York Times: Hopes, and Homes, Crumbling on Indian Tea Plantations