Monday, November 21, 2016

MGNREGA Workers Demand Their Wages Now // RBI Governor Must Resign: Bankers’ Confederation // Gujarati Bizmen Knew of Note Ban in Advance: Ex-BJP MLA // Purging the poor: Mukul Kesavan

The Government of India (GoI) has failed to pay the wages of thousands upon thousands of rural labourers across the villages of India who have worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).  MGNREGA aims to enhance the livelihood security of households in rural areas of the country by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. Wages are to be paid weekly. In Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh alone, the GoI owes more than Rs 30 crore in payment for the work done over the last five months. Births, weddings, illnesses and deaths have greeted and tested the households of peasants and labourers, and angry and violated people have enacted one protest after another at the offices of district magistrates and development officers to try to get the government to respond to this injustice, but to no avail. 

This is outrageous!

How does GoI’s failure to pay affect the everyday lives of those whom it is cheating? Here are some glimpses from Sitapur: On October 29, one day before Diwali, Bitoli, a mazdoor saathi of Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan, was moved by desperation to pawn three pairs of brand new toe-rings (bichhiya) owned by her youngest daughter-in-law. After pawning her own anklet (paayal) for Rs 500 and her older daughter-in-law’s earrings for Rs 700 in previous weeks, the toe-rings were the only remaining items of monetary value in Bitoli’s family and she was hoping to get Rs 300 so that her family could at least have one celebratory meal to mark the festival. In Bitoli’s family, seven people have worked under MGNREGA and the GoI owes them Rs 22,000.
Similar stories abound. In Allipur village, Surendra pawned his bicycle for Rs 200. Rekha of Makdera pawned her anklets for Rs 300 while Ram Kishore of Faridpur had to pawn his wife’s silver chain – which cost them Rs 1200 – for only Rs 500.  As these people await payments from the government, chances are that many of them will not be able to retrieve these items because of the excessively steep interest rates. After the wheat is sown, the winter will become another battle and it will be impossible for them to regain their pawned valuables that they fall back on in times of grave crises.

Pawning is not the only site of exploitation. When one mazdoor saathi could not find a buyer for her kharif crop, she went to sell 20 kilogrammes of sesame seeds to a shopkeeper in another village so that she could find some money to prepare for the sowing of wheat. The shopkeeper did not have the money to buy it, so she travelled to another shop three kilometres away. This shopkeeper agreed to buy the sesame seeds at the rate of Rs 4000 per quintal if she agreed to receive the payment at a later date. Last year, the same saathi sold her sesame seeds at Rs 7000 a quintal. With no money in her hands still, this saathi is in deep agony. The sowing of mustard on her farm is already delayed. Her granddaughter’s wedding is about to happen. She feels helpless as all options seem to disappear.
MGNREGA workers had expected the administration to make at least some payments in August during the festival season. But Eid, Raksha Bandhan and Diwali have all come and gone and the homes and villages remain unmarked by festivities. Many homes could not be white-washed; the pooris, kachoris and desserts that are cooked only on festivals remained unrealised temptations for many; and dozens of people who had been waiting for a festival as an excuse to get a long overdue item of new clothing or footwear had to postpone the idea.

As fields are getting ready in Sitapur for the winter wheat crop, peasants and farmworkers are scurrying to find ways to borrow money. During the last several years, the arrival of MGNREGA had significantly reduced the terror of traders who lend money on interest. While MGNREGA had brought the monthly interest rate down from 10% to 5% in some villages, the non-payment of MGNREGA wages has allowed loan sharks to increase rates back to 10%.

Who is to blame for this mess? In Uttar Pradesh, the state government, who employed the labourers, claims that the GoI is not giving it the money to make payments. Yet, it has managed to pay the officers and staff associated with MGNREGA while the most vulnerable people who have actually sweated for the state are being cheated out of their earnings. In fact, these delays appear to be  a systemtic part of the administration’s strategy of budget cuts in social welfare schemes. How ironic that the two political parties in power, Samajwadi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party, who never tire of making claims in the name of the poor, are participating in this complete mockery of the rural poor

As thousands of saathis from Sitapur District prepare to march against this gross violation of their rights, we demand immediate and full payment to all the labourers of MGNREGA.

RBI Governor Must Resign: Bankers’ Confederation on Demonetisation
People are crying at bank counters. Eleven bank officers have died due to stress. An average bank officer has been working up to 16-18 hours… Officers in the ranks of joint custodian in the currency administration cells in banks are the most affected. Many of them couldn’t even claim half-a-day’s leave after working 18 hours for 11 consecutive days. He demanded Patel to take moral responsibility for these deaths.

A TOP leader of India’s largest confederation of bank officers has called for the resignation of RBI governor Urjit Patel, whom he held responsible for causing “havoc” to the economy with the unprepared decision to demonetise currency. D Thomas Franco, senior vice president, All India Bank Officers Confederation which represents over 2.5 lakh senior officers from all nationalised, old-generation private sector, cooperative and regional rural banks in India, told The Indian Express that it is the RBI governor who should take moral responsibility for the crisis and the deaths of people including 11 bank officers in the last 12 days.

Franco said the government could have taken lessons from other countries and from its own demonetisation drive in 1978, when then RBI governor I G Patel had advised the government against the move. “We all know that neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is an economist,” Franco said. “We have economists in RBI to take the right decisions on matters relating to economy and people’s lives. The present governor has utterly failed in his role by taking a crucial economic decision without planning, which has brought havoc to the nation’s economy and lives of the majority.”

About the shortage of Rs 100 notes, he said, “What we are getting is mostly soiled notes, reintroduced by RBI because of this crisis. As detection machines reject most of the soiled notes, it is another herculean task for bank officers to sort these out manually. Had there been a little planning, they could have printed Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes instead of printing Rs 2,000 notes. Does it mean these economists have no clue about how transactions work and currency travels in a country like India?… All the soiled notes have to come back again as they are meant to be disposed.”

Franco said the new Rs 500 notes are not available in banks even after 11 days. “When they decided to print Rs 2,000 notes in advance, what prevented the printing of Rs 500 notes? It was the RBI governor who signed all Rs 2,000 notes. Why did his team not realise that the new Rs 2,000 notes are smaller than the old Rs 1,000, forcing the bank system to recalibrate two lakh ATMs?” he said. Franco cited reports of “misery and despair” from the ground. “People are crying at bank counters. Eleven bank officers have died due to stress. An average bank officer has been working up to 16-18 hours… Officers in the ranks of joint custodian in the currency administration cells in banks are the most affected. Many of them couldn’t even claim a half a day’s leave after working 18 hours for 11 consecutive days,” he said. “It was very, very poor planning on the part of RBI that has led to this crisis. They did not even have a roadmap. Those who sat and rolled out the demonetisation drive didn’t have a basic idea about how the Indian economy works and transactions happen. We understand that there were no discussions with experts and stakeholders before they took the decision,” he said.

“RBI has to now count and verify all these banned notes again. When we talk about deposits of several thousand crores, we do not know how many of them were forged notes. Collection of old notes in bank branches is being done in a hurry due to heavy crowds. Before they took the decision, the total currency status in all the banks and branches in the country was a single click away for them,” he said. “The administrative hierarchies too have derailed. It is strange to see that economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das is announcing many decisions including the use of indelible ink without any authority while the finance secretary is mum,” he said. “Moreover, RBI is not allowing cooperative banks to exchange currency. They are institutions with a total Rs 10 lakh crore investment and one lakh branches in the most remote areas of the country, serving a rural population of crores,” he said. Franco said the economy is sinking; growth has been affected and think tanks predict immediate impacts will last at least 12 to 15 months.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Yatin Oza, former BJP MLA and Amit Shah’s political mentor, has written that industrialists close to the BJP government already knew of demonetisation before the official announcement on 8 November. Oza claims to possess a video recording which will prove beyond doubt that close associates of Amit Shah were aware of demonetisation beforehand, reports the

I have a video recording with me which will clearly and beyond reasonable doubt prove that all the near and close associates of Shri Amit Shah since 8th Nov till today are engaged into exchange business. There is a big queue outside their office and residence for conversion of black money into white at a discounted rate of 37%, people have queued up outside their office and residence. One has to go without identity with at least a sum of Rs. 1 Crore which will be counted by the employees and a bag containing Rs. 63 lakhs of valid denomination would be handed over. (sic)

Formerly close to PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, Oza is widely credited with giving Shah his break in politics; by appointing him as his election agent. Oza had contested the Assembly elections in Gujarat in 1995. In his letter he has also alleged that district banks in Gujarat exchanged Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes before the announcement.

This in my respectful submission was permitted to be done in Gujarat because all district co-operative banks are controlled by people committed to BJP. These banks right from 9 PM on 8/11/2016 till 5 AM on 9/11/2016 exchanged Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes against smaller denomination. You had through RBI called for the details of exact cash with denominations from all banks of the country on 08/11/2016. You yourself get it verified the veracity of my above statement. I assure you that if I am proved wrong I will tender a public apology.

Currently, Oza is with the Aam Aadmi Party, after breaking away from the BJP. Earlier, he had written a letter to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal that he was witness to a meeting Amit Shah and Akbaruddin Owais where they allegedly agreed on a deal for the Bihar elections. Here’s the full text of his open letter to Prime Minister Modi, according to read more:

Purging the poor - Demonetization and its consequences by Mukul Kesavan
Some of the discussion about demonetization has centred on whether it will achieve its principal object in the long term. Will it curb tax evasion, shrink the black economy, squeeze funding for criminals and terrorists? What is the collateral damage caused by the move: is the cost of demonetization worth the inconvenience and pain that it will inflict upon the poor and the shock it administers to the economy in general. Was the sweep and suddenness of the move the best or only way to achieve demonetization's objects? The unspoken question behind nearly every consideration of demonetization is this: is demonetization a political masterstroke that wins the prime minister a reputation as an anti-corruption crusader who walks his talk, or has Mr Modi's reach exceeded his grasp? Indian arguments are so polarized that each time an Indian economist writes an op-ed or does an interview on the subject, he is judged by his real or alleged political affiliation, which allows one side or the other to discount his arguments. So when I came upon a short post by Kenneth Rogoff, the economist, on India's demonetization, it seemed a great piece of luck. Rogoff has published, just this year, a book called The Curse of Cash in which he advocates demonetization in the United States...
read more: