People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 13

March 28, 2010

EDITORIAL

 

UNIVERSAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE

 

Left Leads the Way

 

THE Left Front governments of West Bengal and Tripura and the Left Democratic Front Government of Kerala, all led by the CPI(M) have shown and led the way in extending the employment guarantee benefits to the urban areas in their states. Amongst these, Tripura was the first to announce the Tripura Urban Employment Project in July 2009. In Kerala, the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee scheme was introduced in this year’s budget. Similarly, the West Bengal Finance Minister announced the introduction of an Urban Employment Guarantee scheme while presenting the budget last week.

Readers will recall that during the tenure of UPA-I, the Left parties which extended crucial outside support to the government had insisted on the Common Minimum Programme which amongst others contained the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. It took three long years of persuasion to finally make the Manmohan Singh government announce the scheme through the enactment of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in the fourth year. Though there was a strong opinion within the UPA I government that such a scheme will only lead to wastage of resources, in practice, the benefits and the gains that people have received in vast tracts of rural areas in the country is there for all to see. Ironically, those who sought to subvert the introduction of such a scheme are the ones who have gained the most politically out of this and returned to power at the centre.

At the very initial stages, the Left parties had argued that this scheme should not be limited only to rural areas and needs to be extended to crores of urban poor who are languishing all across the country. This has not been done so far. Given this, the Left has now taken the lead to implement this in these three states. This, despite the recent 13th Finance Commission recommendations on devolution of resources to the states, where states like Kerala stand to lose around Rs 5000 crores during the next five years. This clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Left to utilise the states’ continuously shrinking resources to the best advantage for the poor and the deprived.

The scheme announced in Tripura would apply to all BPL card holders of the Agartala Municipal area and 12 other nagarpanchayat areas. It is designed to be extended to the urban poor who are not registered as BPL. Tripura state government has estimated that 68 per cent of the state’s population as being below the poverty line. The central government and the planning commission however put the number of BPL at 40 per cent. The state government has decided that it shall not discriminate between the BPL and non-BPL poor and extend the benefits of this scheme to all urban poor. Already with regard to the experience of implementing the Rural Employment Guarantee Act the small state of Tripura in the North East stands out as the best performer.

The introduction of urban employment guarantee by the Left-ruled states comes at a time when the central government has adopted a cruel trajectory of imposing unprecedented burdens on the poor through policies that are aimed at increasing the prices of all essential commodities. These policies announced in the union budget and subsequently in the state budgets like in Delhi come at a time when the prices of all essential commodities continue to soar. This clearly shows the distinct class approach that the Left-led governments follow. It is these governments, despite severe resource constraints that continue to worsen thanks to the policies pursued by the centre, that are giving the true meaning to the constitutional guarantee of the Right to Life contained in Article 19. The Supreme Court has interpreted this Article to mean the following: “The Right to Life is not merely the right to sleep under the bridge and beg over the street, it is a right to live with a decent livelihood”.

It is upto the central government to display its sincerity in upholding both the letter and spirit of this constitutional guarantee by extending the employment guarantee to the urban areas. Unless this is done, the illusory pursuit of `inclusive growth’ will cease to have any meaning. Finally, it is only the strength of the popular mobilisation of people’s struggles that can force the UPA-II government to change its policies and pursue those that provide some relief to the people and enhance their quality of life. The forthcoming April 8 jail bharo called by the Left parties must be seen only as the beginning of intensifying such struggles in the future.