Curb the Prices or Quit!
Even as the prices of all essential commodities soar sky-high, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister tell us that inflation is here to stay. According to these high priests of economic liberalisation, rising prices only reflect the global market reality and it is not fair to expect the Government of India to have any control over international market forces! In other words, the gospel of globalisation tells us to bear with the ‘inconvenience’ caused by rising prices today and wait till the market chooses to relent!
While the government tinkers with wholesale price figures, and the capitalists and traders calculate their enhanced profits, the aam aadmi continues to get increasingly impoverished with every passing day. It is officially acknowledged that three out of every four households in India live on a daily per capita expenditure of Rs. 20 or less. When prices of everyday food items escalate, many of these families are actually pushed down from chronic malnutrition to semi-starvation or worse. Rising prices are their one-way ticket to destitution.
The government invokes the market mantra to justify the upward movement of prices of essential commodities. This is nothing but a complete abdication of the basic tenet of governance. No elected government can be allowed to leave the people at the mercy of a marauding market. It is the job of the state to make sure that the people have access to the basic necessities of life. We have had enough of the farce called the “Targeted Public Distribution System”. To protect the masses from the onslaught of soaring prices, the UPA government must universalise the PDS and expand its coverage to include all essential articles of consumption including sugar, pulses and edible oil.
All sections of the working people who have to sustain themselves on the basis of daily wage earnings or a low salary income are hit hard by rising prices. Real wages are defined only in terms of the purchasing power of the wage-earner. In order to ensure that real wages do not fall below a minimum level, every wage formula is supposed to provide for a variable component known as dearness allowance. It is another matter that the quantum of dearness allowance always falls far short of the actual impact of price-rise. But Railway Minister Laloo Prasad would like us to believe that the current spate of price-rise is actually a response of the market to the pay-hike announced by the Sixth pay Commission!
The ministers can have their own fancy theories and hypotheses, but the government cannot avoid its responsibility to ensure that minimum wages keep pace with the prices. Economists often wax eloquent about the need to maintain some kind of parity across different sectors of the economy and different segments of the working people. If the market maintains parity by demanding the same prices from different segments of consumers, the government too must ensure parity in matters of minimum wages. The Sixth Pay Commission has recommended a minimum monthly pay of about Rs. 6500 for central government employees. Why can’t the same minimum level be ensured in every sphere of employment?
The government has a readymade answer as to why it cannot provide for a minimum cushion to protect the people from the ravages of the market. It says it has to abide by the so-called “Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management” Act. If it is the Act that comes in the way of ensuring basic necessities for the masses, why can’t Parliament repeal the Act it has made? And if the government is indeed so handicapped in matters of budgetary resources why does it not make a beginning by doing away with the huge tax exemptions handed out to the corporate sector. The government that allocates only Rs. 16,000 crore for rural employment ‘guarantee’, gifts away ten times that amount as exemptions. Add to it the whole range of hidden corporate subsidies (in the form of ridiculously low royalty rates for minerals, for instance) and the bogey of resource-constraint instantly vanishes into thin air!
More often than not, price-rise is a man-made disaster, and the real guilty is the government which instead of managing the disaster compounds the misery of the masses by hiding behind the veil of the market. A government that cannot check prices and guarantee jobs has no business to stay in power. Let us once again raise the battle cry “Dam Bandho, Kaam Do, Nahi To Gaddi Chhod Do”.