Even as the Parliament session begins and the Budget is soon to be presented, it is clear that the Modi government is intensifying various offensives that the UPA Government had begun; and rolling back various hard-won rights and entitlements.
The UID Aadhaar scheme is a case in point. This is a scheme that the UPA Government had rushed in, without Parliamentary approval and steamrolling various substantial concerns about privacy, surveillance, and corporate access to personal data of citizens. A parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Yashwant Sinha of the BJP had endorsed many of these concerns and had rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill. Now, the Modi Government is rushing through the same Aadhaar scheme. Moreover, though a March 2014 ruling of the Supreme Court said categorically that the Aadhaar card could not be made mandatory for government subsidies, the Modi Government is proposing to make Aadhaar compulsory for allotting cooking gas cylinders. A meeting headed by Narendra Modi himself has reportedly decided to bring back the Aadhaar-based Direct Benefit Transfer DBT scheme, which had to be withdrawn following the March 2014 Supreme Court order.
Following the Rajasthan Government’s lead, the Modi Government is now planning to usher in what it is euphemistically calling ‘job-oriented labour law reforms’. In essence this is to facilitate hire and fire, make widespread exploitation of contract work legal, and loosen the labour laws in favour of employees.
The Rajasthan Government has also initiated a move to dilute and dismantle MNREGA. The Rajasthan CM has written to the Centre asking why MNREGA needs to be a law, and why it should not be a scheme. Prior to MNREGA, there have already been multiple rural employment guarantee schemes – but these did not imply a legal entitlement. What is new and significant about MNREGA that a reluctant UPA enacted, is that it imposes a legal responsibility on the Government to guarantee employment. The fact is that Governments all over the country and the Centre have resented this legal obligation, and have tried their utmost not to implement it. But the MNREGA has galvanised the rural poor in struggles to claim and avail of their legal entitlement to jobs. Now, the Modi Government proposes to do away with this legal entitlement.
The Land Acquisition Act enacted by the UPA Government itself left many loopholes to allow land grab. But still, the people’s movements against land grab did win significant protections to check the untrammelled plunder of land. Now, the Modi Government proposes to dilute the Land Acquisition Act, in particular to change the criteria of consent of farmers required for acquisition to take place.
Meanwhile, the Modi Government is proposing to retain spending capacity of Rs 32 per day as the cut-off for rural poverty, while raising the urban poverty cut-off to Rs 47. Both these rural and urban ‘poverty lines’ are ridiculous, in that they exclude the vast majority of the obviously poor. The Governments that shamelessly impose steep price hikes on the poor, also refuse to acknowledge the poverty of India’s people.
The Modi Government, emboldened by the lack of even a semblance of Parliamentary Opposition, is rushing to do the bidding of corporate, roll back pro-people subsidies, rights and entitlements. But the Parliamentary Opposition, even in earlier times, has done little to safeguard the rights of peasants from land grab or the legal rights of workers, or the interests of the people and the poor. It is the people’s opposition on the streets that will have a crucial role to play against the ongoing offensive. The Modi Government that exploited people’s aspirations to ride to power, cannot be allowed now to betray those aspirations and impose hardships on people demanding relief and rights. ‘Acche din’, from being the broken promise of the Modi Government, will become the battle cry of people on the streets against price rise and land grab, demanding the expansion rather than erosion of legally mandates right to employment and labour laws.