ENACT EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE IMMEDIATELY: ACTIVISTS

OrissaMatters Bureau

New Delhi:

A banner showing signatures of people from rural India demanding employment guarantee. The lines read: “Give work to everyone, give proper wage to every work.” Photo: Panini Anand

Even as Delhi begins to cool down after the arrival of monsoon, the UPA government doesn�t seem to have any reprieve from heat wave. It is not only beginning to feel the heat from Left allies over disinvestment of BHEL and the �navratnas�, but also from a quarter it least anticipated.

Over 150 organisations and thousands of people across the country have formed a broad coalition- People�s Action for Employment Guarantee- to mobilise public opinion and build pressure on the Central government to enact what can be the first step in the history of independent India of realising the right to work, hitherto a part of the directive principles of state policy. Pressure is now mounting on Dr. Manmohan Singh to adopt immediately the pending formulation for employment guarantee.

Addressing a press conference organised by the People�s Action at Press Club in New Delhi on 28th June 2005, eminent social activist Ms. Aruna Roy demanded that the UPA government must immediately enact a National Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) in fulfilment of its commitment to the Common Minimum Programme. Reminding the government that it came to power only on this basis, Roy warned, �no government can morally or rightfully claim to remain in power without doing anything for the poor�.


Aruna Roy addresses media persons at Press Club in New Delhi on 28th June. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy looks on. Photo: Panini Anand

Ms. Roy is a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which pressed for and prepared the original draft of the EGA.

This Act was envisaged to provide for entitlement to work to everyone who was willing to do unskilled manual labour at statutory minimum wage within 15 days of application for work. If employment cannot be provided then unemployment allowance had to be given.

However, concerned citizens and civil society groups have been alleging lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Congress-led UPA govt. in passing the EGA. Though a National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill has been tabled in Parliament on 21 December 2004, it is wrought with so many amendments that many say it defeats the very purpose of employment guarantee. Instead of being universal in being open to all adults, unrestricted to any number of days in a year, irreversible so that no can roll back this guarantee, national in coverage and giving minimum wages, the Bill is now limited to Rural, one person per BPL household and 100 days of unskilled manual employment only. Moreover, there is neither guarantee of minimum wages nor any provision to hold the government officials accountable for not providing work. Many believe the �targeting� of the provision, as the present Bill adopts, only to BPL households will exclude millions of the poor, because the government�s list of BPL families is not only highly erroneous but also excludes millions of the actual poor in the country.

Just as the Bill, since languishing with a Standing Committee of Parliament for over six months, is being worked upon of late in anticipation of the monsoon session, campaigners for the Act have decided to turn the heat straight on the government by demanding restoration of the original form of the draft Act. A two-month long rozgar adhikar yatra (convoy for the right to employment), starting from Delhi on 13 May, has already been travelling through ten States, mostly in the food-for-work districts, mobilising public opinion through village public meetings, street rallies, public hearings, seminars, street plays and songs. While the yatra is scheduled to return to New Delhi on July 1, three of its leading activists spoke to media persons at Press Club.

Ms. Roy said the Act was meant to provide the right to work to the poor workers in the unorganised sector. She alleged that the government was now trying to evade its responsibility by introducing a diluted Bill, which was quite restricted in scope. The People�s Action, she said, had been demanding for a universal, irreversible and unrestricted Act with national coverage, ensuring payment of minimum wages and equal participation of women. Only in this form could the original purpose of the Act be fulfilled, Ms. Roy noted.

Ever since its conception, the proposed EGA has seen some heated debates among academicians and intellectuals. Pro-market economists oppose the Act saying it will incur huge expense on the State and fizzle out the �recent economic growth� in the country. They also contend that �poverty having been reduced dramatically� and the �poor becoming better off�, there is no justification for this Act. On the other hand, a host of eminent economists like Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, Amit Bhaduri, among others, have been calling such claims as bluff. Citing that the so called �economic growth� has benefited only a small section of the population where as the country has been witnessing unprecedented agrarian distress in the rural areas, and loss of livelihoods, income and employment for a vast majority of the poor in the past decade, they have been demanding for increased public spending, for which the EGA, they say, can be the best way. Reputed economist Jean Dreze is in fact spearheading the movement for the EGA by touring the countryside on the yatra.

Dismissing the opposition to the Act on the ground of financial burden, Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University unveiled before the press the economic viability of the Act. The 50,000 crore rupees or so to be spent for implementing the Act as wage payment, he said, would raise the income of millions of poor families, in turn increasing their demand for goods and thereby expanding production and market. A �multiplier effect� would be set in motion generating further income and employment in various sectors of the economy, he added.

�The EGA can be an effective tool to build rural infrastructure too,� Prof. Chenoy said. Terming the Act as a �profoundly democratic measure�, he said, �No social or economic justice can be established without income and employment generation for the poor masses.�


Aruna Roy addresses media persons at Press Club in New Delhi on 28th June. To her left are Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy and Annie Raja. Photo: Panini Anand

Speaking at the press conference, Annie Raja, secretary of the National Federation for Indian Women, narrated instances of �blatant violations of guidelines of food-for-work programmes in the countryside� which she found out while travelling through half of the food-for-work districts as a part of the yatra. �The food-for-work programme should be stopped giving way to Employment Guarantee Act so that those who violate it can be tried for violation of the Constitution,� she said. However, she demanded that EGA be passed immediately in its originally drafted form since the present Bill �has been diluted and offers no guarantee of employment in the real sense.�

As a continuation of the campaign, the People�s Action for Employment Guarantee has planned for a massive day-long jan manch (people�s platform) on July 2 at Constitution Club, New Delhi, where the yatris along with hundreds of activists and common people will present their testimonies, besides asking political parties and the UPA government about their commitment to providing employment guarantee to the poor.

Major political parties, including the Left, having confirmed their participation in the Jan Manch, the Manmohan Singh government will find it hard not to answer. And looking at how public mobilisation and campaign succeeded in compelling the government to enact the Right to Information Act, a National Employment Guarantee Act may soon become a reality.

STATE GOVERNMENT KILLS THE SPIRIT OF ELECTRICITY ACT, 2003

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Government of Orissa has almost killed the spirit of Electricity Act 2003 and, that too, willfully. This is notwithstanding giving retrospective effect to the Orissa Electricity Reforms (Transfer of Transmission and Related activities) Scheme, 2005, shown to have been formulated for implementation of the Act.

Under the Scheme, the Grid Corporation of Orissa (GRIDCO) is to transact the lone task of trading of electricity whereas its original responsibility of transmission has been transferred to a new public enterprise styled as Orissa Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. (OPTCL) with effect from 1st April 2005. The State Government had to do this under compulsion of Law but in execution it has played the trick that strangles the Scheme. To spot the trick we shall have to trade into its background.

The Electricity Act, 2003 was enacted and enforced with effect from 10th July 2003 in supersession of two archaic Laws namely Electricity Act 1910 and Electricity (Supply) Act 1948, after a lot of debates across the country. It diagnosed the chaos in electricity sector as an outcome of continuous negligence to marketing of power like any other commodity produced through any means of production. It also recognized the difference between all other productions and electricity. When other productions can be stored, electricity cant. It doesnt even wait to perish like other consumer commodities. It is lost if not consumed immediately. Hence prompt, immediate, planned and orchestrated marketing of power was essential to make power sector healthy and earning, the new Law underlined. Hence it stipulated that trading must be separated from all other activities in power sector and run by answerable organizations. In effect, separation of trading from all other activities became the core spirit of Electricity Act, 2003. To give this Law the required national teeth, the Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, 1998 and the Reform Acts that were in force in as many as eight States were also superseded.

Orissa was the first State to have promulgated Electricity Reforms Act in 1995. But, for reasons best known to IAS officers who manned the Energy Department and the Minister-in-charge, it adopted tactics that render the spirit of the new Act inconsequential.

It may be recalled that Government of India had opened up power sector for private participation in generation as well as in distribution in accordance with the recommendations of ECC group in 1991 following which Orissa had formulated its Reforms Act.

After adopting the Reforms Act in 1995, Orissa had bulldozed her State Electricity Board and created in its place two separate Companies under State ownership with effect from 1st April 1996. GRIDCO was created to undertake transmission and distribution activities and OHPC was created to generate Hydel power respectively.

The mismanagement that followed and the utter humiliation the power engineers of the State had to undergo as lobby pass outs were put in to rule over them still live in memory of many. Orissas climate suddenly suited predators who were eager to prey upon the power consumers and the politico-executive nexus anxious to oblige the lobby mechanism went on contriving set-ups that should commensurate with their hidden agenda.

At this stage, the State government, by an Ordinance on 26th Dec.1998, created four distribution companies namely CESCO, WESCO, NESCO AND SOUTHCO as subsidiary companies of GRIDCO to undertake distribution activities in different regions of Orissa. The later three subsidiary companies, as per the hidden agenda, were privatized on 1st April 1999 and handed over to BSES. Now they are controlled by Reliance Energy Ltd. The other one, i.e. CESCO was privatized five months later, on 1st Sept.1999 to facilitate AES India- a subsidiary of AES Inc., USA taking it over on the same day. But the follow up scenario was so chaotic that AES has fled and since 2001, CESCO is running under direct control of OERC through one CEO and Administrator appointed for the purpose. This data gives glimpses of unplanned, unsettled, uncertain, and unspecific management (deliberately done so to serve hidden masters) that has engulfed the electricity sphere in the State. As a result, the consumers are suffering, all their hope generated under the slogans of reforms having shattered.

Therefore, in the Electricity Act, 2003, in search of a remedy, in supersession of all earlier Acts, serious attention was given to proper marketability of electricity with answerable responsibility. Therefore trading of power was recognized, for the first time, as the core of activity in the electricity sector.

Trading having thus been given a distinctly independent entity, the new Electricity Act emphasized on its separation from all other activities like transmission and distribution. Hence transmission and distribution organizations were banned from trading in electricity. A grace period for separation of trading from transmission etc. was however granted till 10th June 2004.

GRIDCO, which was functioning as State Transmission Utility in Orissa, was also engaged in power trading.

The State Government did not take diligent steps to end this jumbling. It wanted and obtained an extension till 10th June 2005. But instead of bringing out the required separation, it wanted the status quo to continue for another year. The Union Government turned down the request on 20th April 2005 as the Act of 2003 did not permit this design. Under such a circumstance, the State government had to formulate the Scheme mentioned supra with retrospective effect. But that was just to hoodwink the Central Government. In reality it wanted to block its implementation as long as possible.

Notification No.6892 dated 9th June 2005, whereby the Scheme became operative, is a pointer to this. GRIDCO had no Technical Director on its Board for around four years even though its subject rests on technology. No electrical engineer, after retirement of Bijoy Kumar Mohanty, was inducted as a Director. Without rectifying this colossal wrong, by this Notification, all the personnel on role of GRIDCO as on 31st March 2005 were transferred to OPTCL with effect from 1st April 2005. There was no posting of any power engineer to direct this new set-up also. This Notification rendered both the organizations bereft of necessary human resources. GRIDCO retained a Board of Directors without any Technical Director and any staff down below to work whereas OPTCL got the staff without any Director to guide. This lacunae laughing at the Scheme, a new idea was cooked up to parade a remedy. On the next day, i.e. the 10th June 2005, another Notification was issued vide No.10086. This Notification assigned the responsibilities of Managing Director (MD) and Director (Finance) (DF) of OPTCL respectively to the Chairman-cum-MD (CMD) and DF of GRIDCO. What more jumbling could have been possible?

It is impossible to accept that the IAS officer who tops the Energy Department in the Government and the Chief secretary who enjoys paramount power over this officer and the Minister who holds the portfolio and the Chief Minister behind whose back wind does not pass in the government, could not visualize that posting of CMD and DF of GRIDCO as MD and DF of OPTCL to work simultaneously in both the organizations would create utter confusion in execution of the Scheme as both the categories of assignments represent conflicting interests.

It seems, this arrangement has been deliberately made to hit at the head of the Scheme and thereby to frustrate the Electricity Act in its execution.

No Technical Director available on the scene in both the organizations, power trading necessitating real time response, the jack of all trades bureaucrats have made a mess of management of both GRIDCO and OPTCL under the nose of a minister, who, were not a minister, would have been doing his old trade of newspaper hawking, and a chief minister, who is known more for dependency on bureaucracy than understanding the hunting problems of Orissa.

Incompetent or innovative hoodwinkers they be, it is clear that the people in power in Orissa have succeeded in rendering so far the Electricity Act of 2003 inconsequential.

IF THE REPORT IS RIGHT, THE PRESIDENT IS WRONG.

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Our democracy has been transformed into a plutocracy due to lack of informed participation. The top officials in the Union as well as the State Governments and the low caliber politicians in high positions have ruined our motherland. Ninety nine per cent of our population, at the minimum, is being exploited by opportunists; call them industrialists, traders or administrators. The people would never have fallen in this impasse were they not kept bereft of information on how their motherland is being managed. The Right to Information Act, passed both by the peoples representatives in the Loksabha and the States representatives in the Rajyasabha, therefore, is a panacea for recovery of our democracy to an assuring extent.

After the Parliament in both the Houses adopted the Information Bill, the President, who despite being a great scientist, in public perception, is a very simple man, has given his consent to it on 20th June, 2005. But a report has hit headlines in todays mainstream newspapers that his consent is saddled with certain advices that may affect its notification. If the report is correct, we must say that the President is wrong.

According to the report, the President has emphasized that all Presidential communications with the Prime Minister should be kept out of the purview of the new Law. It is fresh in our mind that his office refused to send documents, pertaining to communication between K.R.Narayanan and Atal Behari Vajpayee as President and Prime Minister respectively, in response to requisitions made by Nanavati-Shah Commission probing post-Godhra communal riots in Gujrat. The Gujrat riot has damaged the composite character of our nation. Observations of some high level officials who were at the helm of law and order management then in that State give glimpses of the communal brutalism the Government of that Province had resorted to under Narendra Modi. It is public knowledge that Modi was acting within the BJP framework. Vajpayee as the Prime Minister and Narayanan as the President must not have closed their eyes to what was happenung in Gujrat. How that was taken by both of them? Was Vajpayee with his party protg or with the Nation? The people have a right to know this for informed participation in democracy. They can know of this if the Judicial Commission does justice to the issues under its probe. It cannot do justice to the issues unless the communications between the two apex functionaries come to its knowledge. The President has failed to understand this. As long as he is the President, he may claim privilege over his communications with his Prime Minister. But to debar a Judicial Probe Commission to go through the communications between a former President and a former Prime Minister not only hampers the probe but also debars people from being informed. It was not in consonance with the tenets of democracy to obstruct a Judicial probe in such a style. But the President did it. Now by advising the government to keep all presidential communications with the PM beyond reach of the Information Act, he has advised the Government to go against the right the Parliament has resolved the people to get.

As we have mentioned supra, top officials have ruined our people through misgovernance. Bureaucracy is synonymous with corruption. Commission agents abound in administration. So the root of misgovernance can be spotted if noting that the top bureaucrats make in various files come to public gaze. The President has wanted this possibility to remain out of reach of the people. In our view, this would kill the spirit of the Right to Information Act.

Ethically incorrect, the Presidents advice, as reported, is also indicative of wrong application of mind. It also is legally wrong.

On receipt of the Bill, the President had only two things to do. He was free to give or refuse consent. If, in his opinion, the Bill was defective, he should have returned the same with his observations and then the Parliament could have taken the next step. But he has not done this. He has given his consent.

Now therefore, the Bill obtains the status of an Act and the central Government is duty bound to notify its enforceability.

At this stage, the Presidents advices carry no legality. The Central Government has no legal right to incorporate these advices in the Act to be notified. If it is done, it would be amending the Act behind back of the Parliament. Once the Parliaments adopts a Bill and the Presidents gives to it his consent, no intervention of the Parliament can be countenanced before the Bill is enforced as an Act. So, before the Right to Information Act is rightfully enforced, no amendment to it is possible. And, the Presidents advice cannot be considered in context of the Act without an amendment to the Act caused by the Parliament.

It seems, the President is under bad advice. He has given his advice obviously after giving his consent to the Bill.

Has he succumbed to some invisible pressure after giving his consent and before sending his consent?

It is better, he should know, if he has advanced these advices, that he has committed a wrong that law does not permit.

HYDRO-ELECTRICITY MISMANAGED INTO INERTNESS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Before becoming Orissas Energy Minister, S.N.Patro was a newspaper hawker by profession. After becoming the Minister, he poses to be an expert in electricity. And, so expertly he has managed his portfolio that Hydropower generation in Orissa is going to stop soon, even as thermal power generation has been halted at Talcher due to paucity of coal.

The reservoirs at all the Hydro-generation points have come down to the Minimum Draw Down Level. When the MDDL is 590 mt at Burla, the Reservior Level (RL) was 592.41 mt. on June 23 morning. It has further decline by the evening.

Power generation is proportional to quantity of water discharged (Q) and the force induced by the height of its fall on the runner blades. So a decline in Q is bound to restrict generation, which is happening at Burla.

Not only Burla, all the other Hydro-generation heads are showing the same symptoms. RL has already come down below MDDL at Balimela, Machhkund and Indravati.

MDDL is 1440.00 at Balimela where the RL now stands at 1439.00. Similarly, the RL at Machhkund stands at 2684.00 mt when its MDDL is 2685. At Indravati, the RL is 621 mt when the MDDL is set at 625 mt.

At Rengali and U.Kolab the RL become equal with the MDDL, which stands at 109.20 and 844 mt. respectively.

So, unless monsoon arrives immediately with supper heavy pours, there is no chance of power generation at these heads any more.
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This precarious condition could not have developed had there been proper technical management of the Hydro projects in the state. But the beater of own drum minister has never paid any attention to this. After retirement of Er. B.K.Mohanty, since four years, there is no posting of a Technical Director in GRIDCO. And, consequently, no technical management of discharge to the heads.

Now whom to blame when generation halts?

WHERE IS THE HUMANE FACE?

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Nothing better could have been said when Mr. Bipin Bihari Mishra, taking over charge of Orissa Police as its Director General last year, said that crime is to be curbed; but the police mind-set should be so set that the people feel secured.

We had highlighted his version, as, to us, he had spotted the crux of the lacunae with the police. But deaths in custody one after another in various Police stations do tell us that we had erred in putting faith in his words.

Cut and dried reaction of the D.G.P. to every death in custody prompts one to ask him if ever has he tried to change the Police face from inhumane to humane.

There are 506 cases against inhuman behavior of the Police pending before the State Human Rights Commission, which was establishment only in 2003. Amongst all allegations, the allegations against the Police constitute the majority. The Police Chief could have done better had he taken steps to expedite the cases pending against so many Police officers for violation of human rights and initiated any exemplary action against any Police Officer who is guilty of transgression of human rights of any man or woman. Instead, he goes on propagating that the people could live happily if ultra-left activists are vanquished.

Under the commissionist pattern of present administration, the contractors, hand in glove with official functionaries, are looting public money even from the fund earmarked for food for work programs. They are using machines to do the work that is meant for execution by people below the poverty-line against food. If left activists compel the functionaries to see that the poor people for whom the fund is meant are not denied work by the avaricious machine users, do they commit a crime? Why the Police have not taken any action against any body that has used or allowed the contractors to use Machines in works the working villagers are supposed to do?

Mr. Mishra would do well if he could say us what exactly he has done to change the mind-set of Police as its Director General. If he has taken any real step, where it went wrong? He should share his experience with the public so that the people can best know as to where the humane face of Police has gone.

SUN SENDS KILLER RAYS: DEATH EXCEEDS 300 IN ORISSA

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Killing rays of the Sun extinguished at least 300 human lives in Orissa by June 15, 05 in the current summer. As many as 40 persons have reportedly died within last 50 hours even as 128 sunstroke persons are admitted in hospitals all over the state. The entire population is under the syndrome of dog days.

Presence of forests has failed to control heat waves. So also the Sea.

Paradeep on the coastline suffered from 44 degree Celsius where as Goplapur on Sea had 35 on June 15. Puri was 34 and Balasore 37. From this it may be inferred that presence of polluting industries like OSWAL at Paradeep has contributed to high-rise in mercury in the port city, where as other places on the coastline were below 40. That industrial pollution has been adding to solar heat is proved by the fact that the northern and western track of Orissa is under grip of high temperature. Mercury refused to come below 48 degree Celsius at Talcher, 46 at Angul, 48 at Titilagarh, 46 at Jharsuguda and 42 at Keonjhar.

Cuttack crossed 43, when at Bhubaneswar, the decline in temperature has not gone below 44.2.

The state Governments deplorable failure in supplying drinking water to the population has left the whole State in an unprecedented dependence on the unknown.

How the official functionaries have looted money in the name of water provision in the rural belt and left the poor inhabitants under the mercy of elements can be seen from one example to start with.

One of the worst hit districts is Nuapada. In 2000, a highly propagated project to provide 91 Panchayats of this district with perennial water reservoirs was launched there with lot of fan fare. A sum of Rs. 7 crores was pumped into the project styled as Mahabandha project. Mahabandha means a massive water reservoir. Visit the district now. You wont get a drop of water in any of these Mahabandhas. No Mahabandha would come to your gaze even.

Officers-contractors combine has looted most of the money; say 90% in the minimum.

Nuapada belongs to the unfortunate KBK area. The chief Administrator of KBK is sitting at Bhubaneswar, successful as he is in getting other assignments in addition to KBK. He has never inspected any of these Mahabandhas. Had he really supervised KBK administration, such a situation might never have arisen.

People of this district are not getting any water to use in toilet, what to speak of other essentials. Therefore they are dying dehydrated notwithstanding what other reason the government doctors may contrive. All the districts away from the Capital City have their own experience of woe almost similar to that of Nuapada.

The government, absolutely unable to tackle the menace, has been trumpeting hope that once the monsoon arrives, the problem would be solved. But the weather calculators are failing. S.C.Sahu, Director of Indian Meteorological Department, Orissa, had forecasted that by June 10, Orissa should have regular monsoon. Now he backtracks. The monsoon is so pulsatory that it is not easy to say for sure when should it arrive, he says.

Scorching Sun in the sky and heightened lootraj in the State have sandwiched the people of Orissa like never before. No body knows when to get a reprieve.

SCORCHING SUN HORRIFIES STATE TO CLOSE DOWN OFFICES

OM Bureau

For the first time in Orissa, executive offices are closed to avoid heat wave. Officially 55 persons have died, but unofficially the scorching sun has taken a toll of 256 human lives.

June 14 is a Tuesday in Orissa. It is a working day. But no office is working. Horrified by the unprecedented wave of deaths that exposure to the burning sun is gushing out, the State Government has order for closure of all the offices within its jurisdiction. The mercury had soared to an all time high of 46.3 the preceding day at Bhubaneswar throwing four persons into the pyre. At Talcher it was 47.1. Not a single habitat could be found in Orissa that is not burning. In the western part f the state, temperature has not declined from 45 degrees Celsius for around a month.

No body knows what shall happen if the intense heat wave does not abate. Water sources have dried up in many places. A week ago, industry minister Mr. Biswabhusan Harichandan had declared at Talcher that the state Government shall supply to every citizen drinking water in tankers to tackle the current water crisis. But little had he known that the State has no sufficient tankers to take up this challenge.