Sunday, February 1, 2015

Informal workers, the urban poor and Delhi elections

As an election battle of never seen before bitterness and desperation reaches its crescendo in Delhi, political pundits are groping to explain why the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is showing such resilience and bounce. Not only has it expectedly replaced the Congress as the main contender against the BJP, but from all reports and opinion polls, AAP appears to be nosing ahead in these crucial final days, forcing the BJP to yet again revamp its strategy.

Delhi elections 2015: Complete coverage

The key factor fuelling AAP's popularity is the support it is getting from the city's vast 'underclass' - industrial workers, unorganized sector laborers, petty shopkeepers and traders, office and shop employees, service providers of all hues and shades. But what many do not realize is the vast numbers involved. Here is a glimpse of this under-city that is flexing its political muscle for perhaps the first time.

Delhi has a population of over 1.7 crore according to the 2011 Census, and about 1.3 crore voters, as per the latest revised electoral rolls. According to an NSSO report of 2011-12, an astonishing 60% of this population lives on less than Rs13,500 per month. In fact 21% of the population survives at less than Rs 7,000 per month. The official minimum wage fixed by the government is Rs.8550 per month, and in most units it is never complied with.

"I get Rs 8,550, but only after working 12 hours per day," says Sunder Lal, a worker in an automotive parts making unit in East Delhi, revealing the Delhi's own brand of looting the poor. Minimum wages are fixed for an 8-hour work day. The next 4 hours of work should be considered overtime work and paid separately. This is a big source of resentment - but no government has so far listened to them.


But what about the great middle class? There are over 3.5 lakh Central government employees and 2.5 lakh state govt. and local bodies' employees, as per DGET data for 2012. They are part of the 30% segment of Delhi's population that earns between Rs15,000 to Rs 30,000. At the upper end, the NSSO data becomes patchy because of small sample - just 7 percent people fill up the vast range of monthly incomes between Rs 30,000 to Rs 1.2 lakh.

An overwhelming number of Delhi's working people are employed in the informal sector where even worse conditions prevail. About 82% of Delhi's workers are in the services sector - trade, transport, education, health, personal services (like maids, security guards, cooks) and so on. And almost all of this is marked by 'informal' relations.

Another NSSO report reveals that in Delhi, 62% workers in the informal sector had no written job contract - they could be thrown out with no benefits or hearing in the blink of an eye. Nearly half of them did not get paid leave or any social security benefits.


"I had to take my sick daughter to a private doctor. I paid a back-breaking fee and I also lost a day's wage. Is that fair?" asks Ishaq, an employee at a godown in Narela.

There are about 9 lakh 'establishments' in Delhi, that is, units doing some kind of economic activity, according to provisional results of the 6th Economic Census conducted in 2013. These employ over 29 lakh persons. The average number of employees is just 3.3 per unit. The share of units with 8 or more employees is just 3.3%.

It is this atomized mass of humanity, struggling at minimum wage levels, living in cramped hovels, fighting for water and electricity, and oppressed by the bureaucracy and police, that Kejriwal is finding support from. 

"It is not that Kejriwal will solve all our problems," says an enthusiastic Vimala, a resident of Jehangirpuri, a giant resettlement colony in North Delhi. "But for the first time there is a party that gives us poor people a hearing. It's the beginning of ummeed (hope)," she asserts. Perhaps that's the reason why AAP is cruising along, giving all the big guns a run for their money.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/delhi-elections-2015/top-stories/Delhi-elections-2015-What-makes-Arvind-Kejriwals-AAP-a-formidable-contender/articleshow/46082903.cms?utm_source=TOInewHP_TILwidget&utm_medium=ABtest&utm_campaign=TOInewHP