A Murder for Mayawati’s Birthday
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s birthday bash this year lacked the usual fanfare and display of cash. Widespread protests and people’s anger against the gruesome murder of a PWD engineer Manoj Gupta by an MLA of her party, Shekhar Tiwari, allegedly for failing to pay up a sum of Rs. 50 lakh towards Mayawati’s ‘birthday gift’, put a dampener on the event. Mayawati has been put on the back foot, perhaps for the first time since she came to power in May 2007, when she formed the first single party government in UP in more than a decade.
“Chadh Gundon Ke Chati Par- Mohar Lagao Hathi Par” (Crush the criminals – vote for the elephant) was her election war cry against the erstwhile Samajwadi Party-led government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mayawati’s credibility among varied sections of people has suffered a blow with Manoj Gupta’s murder. The middle class is seeing the murder as comparable with Satyendra Dubey’s murder during the Vajpayee regime at the Centre, and Manjunath’s murder during Mulayam-Congress rule in UP. For the poor, Manoj Gupta’s murder is yet another instance of the institutionalization of bribery which has marked Mayawati’s regime, and which they confront daily as they seek to avail of widow’s pension, ‘red card’ for the poor, etc. in political circles in UP, the murder, on the eve of Lok Sabha elections, is seen as the latest in a string of crimes by Mayawati’s Ministers and BSP leaders.
A walk through the BSP’s hall of shame reveals Bhagwan Sharma alias Guddu Pandit, the BSP MLA from Dibai who was arrested after a research scholar in Agra University accused him of rape in June 2008; as well as two of Mayawati’s Ministers – Anand Sen Yadav (charged with disappearance of Shashi, daughter of a BSP worker) and Jamuna Prasad Nishad (charged with murder of a policeman) – whom she was forced to dismiss.
The Mayawati Government has tried to claim a moral high ground by getting the accused BSP leaders arrested and dismissing them. But the fact remains that these are mere cosmetic measures, made easy for her only because she enjoys a majority Government. The hollowness of these cosmetic ‘stern measures’ against her tainted leaders is exposed by the fact that while fresh scandals have forced her to distance herself from some such leaders, that has not prevented her from welcoming other notorious criminals – such as Arun Shankar Shukla and D P Yadav – into her party’s fold! Further, the Nithari victims are yet to get justice, and rather, there is evidence that abductions of children continue unabated in the same region.
The ‘Crime in 2007’ report of the central government’s National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) states that of the 9,819 cases of atrocities against SC and ST people reported in 2007 in the country, 2,113 were in Uttar Pradesh – the highest in the country. Is this because the Mayawati Government has been more ready than other governments to encourage people to report atrocities under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act? Far from it. In fact, soon after Mayawati took over the reins, her government issued directives to the police not to register any cases under SC/ST Act in ordinary cases but only where ‘serious’ and ‘heinous’ crimes such as murder and rape were committed, and that too only if it there is prima facie evidence to suggest that the atrocity has been committed. One can very well imagine what the actual figure would be in the absence of this directive! A recent NCW Report also shows that the largest number of cases of rape in 2008 were registered in UP.
State-wide Protests Against Manoj Gupta's Murder
The CPI(ML) in UP held a State-wide protest on 25 December 2008 and burnt effigies of Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati against the murder of PWD engineer Manoj Gupta, demanding resignation from the Chief Minister. In Bhadaura of Ghazipur the protest demonstration was lathicharged by the police. There were clashes with the police in Balia, Ambedkar Nagar and Mirzapur also.
Housing schemes for poor SC/STs too have proved to be a sham, with incidents of forcible takeover of agricultural land of farmers (and lathicharge of protestors) for these schemes, even before a single house could be allotted to the deserving. As for Mayawati’s much-touted promise of land for SCs/STs under the encroachment regularization scheme, till March 2008, a mere 871 allottees from among the SCs/STs were given a paltry 675 acres of ceiling surplus land. Compare this with the 64,000 hectares promised to Jai Prakash industries for building the Ganga Express Highway Project!
The Samajwadi Party, the main opposition in the state, lacks credibility to challenge Mayawati on the issue of criminalization; apart from its past track record, it has promised a ticket to Brij Bhushan Sharan, former BJP MP from Gonda and notorious history-sheeter with a record of communal rioting to boot. The CPI(M) will not forge a pre-poll alliance with the BSP – mainly because, as a politburo member of their put it, “Generally, the BSP goes it alone in elections.” However, their projection of Mayawati as potential Prime Minister last year is proving embarrassing for them today, as protests against the Manoj Gupta murder escalate. If Nithari was the nail in the Mulayam Government’s coffin in the last Assembly elections, no doubt, the Manoj Gupta murder is a damning indictment of the Mayawati Government, on the eve of Parliamentary polls.
MAJOR LIMITATIONS OF THE ACT
• Neither agricultural labourers have been brought under the purview of the Act nor a separate bill for agricultural labourers tabled. But, the minister claims that they are also covered.
• NCEUS had prepared two Bills, one on social security and the other on working conditions. The latter has been dumped and the Bill passed confines itself only to social security in its most diluted/truncated form.
• The 2008 Act appears to have excluded vast sections of unorganized workers like agricultural labourers, the unorganized labourers in the organised sector including contract labourers and the informal labourers in the formal sector, the anganwadi workers, para workers like ASHAs and parateachers, and those the cooperative sector. This exclusion reveals the true colours of the “Politics of Inclusiveness” of the UPA.
• The Act is applicable only to a small section of unorganized labourers whose income limit is expected to be notified by the government. There is every possibility that the subsequent notification will include parameters to exclude good number of unorganised workers from the applicability of the law and the schemes.
• The workers in the construction sector are exempted from making any payment because a cess was collected from the sector for providing health insurance and other facilities. But there is no provision to collect a mandatory cess from the employers in other sectors. Only the BPL unorganized workers have been exempted from paying any premium only in the case of one scheme – 'Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana – providing for a paltry health insurance cover of up to a maximum of Rs.30,000 for a family of five. As a result, workers in other sectors would have to pay the premium amount.
• The passage of the Act is not accompanied by any legally stipulated guarantee for the establishment of a Central Welfare fund.
• There is no provision for penalties in the Act to punish those employers who violate it.
• “Social Security” to the unorganized workers has been narrowed down to ten paltry social security schemes. Most of these schemes like old age pension or maternity benefit (or even the meagre Bima Yojana, for that matter) are already existing/ongoing schemes and there is nothing new in them.
• As a result of dropping the Bill on conditions of work prepared by the Arjun Sengupta Commission, working conditions of unorganised workers including hours of work, mandatory holidays, industrial safety, job security, industrial relations and trade union rights, guaranteeing minimum wages, bonus etc., would remain unregulated and unenforced.
• The government has not acknowledged the principle of unemployment allowance in the case of job losses for unorganised workers or any form of employment and wage/income guarantee. It was recognized in the case of NREGA and the State governments in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu introduced a meagre payment of Rs.500 per month for organised industrial workers in case of loss of jobs but a comprehensive unemployment/job-loss allowance is yet to take shape in India as in the West. What is social security in the absence of unemployment allowance?
• The national and state boards for unorganised workers provided for in the Act are advisory bodies and like the National Labour Commission they are toothless bodies. While implementation is left to the district bureaucracy, there is no independent enforcement or watchdog/oversight body with representation from unions and there is no appellate authority even.
• Not only there is no penalty against the defaulting employers, there would be no action against the bureaucrats who refuse to register any unorganised worker under any of the twin scheduled schemes.
• The special problems of migrant workers, especially inter-State migrants, among unorganised workers, especially the problem of security, has been totally ignored by the Act.
• The special problem of women unorganised workers do not figure in the Bill. The problems of security, sexual harassment, proper accommodation for migrant women workers, issues relating to nature of work and industrial safety, gender wage gap, non-payment of wages, childcare facilities at work spot etc., have been totally neglected.