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Saturday, November 26, 2011

What are 10 Million people doing today? - story of subjugation forewarned...

Union Minister, Anand Sharma, has said that "10 million jobs will be created in 3 years through FDI in retail" in his bid to promote the entry of Wal Marts and other large retail chains into the Indian soil. The government has shamelessly held that "farmers will benefit as well!

Question arises as to what are these 10 million people doing, so helplessly awaiting the FDI in retail to come and save them from 'unemployment'?

The reality is that the Government really doesn't KNOW how our people are employed! According to their own report, only 7% of employable India is in the 'organized sector' and 93% is in 'informal or unorganized sector'. So, whenever the government talks of 'under employment' or 'unemployed', they are talking of the 7% people and their status. And in the same report, when it talks of the 'open unemployment' or those it knows of as being unemployed, it places the no. of unemployed at 9 million!

In fact, The Directorate General of Employment, when it first encountered the suggestion that FDI be opened to retail by global (and globalizing) consulting firm, says, that such a recommendation if implemented, will have '...the labour market and entire economy run by external forces' and goes on to say that 'the job loses may outsmart the additional employment generated'!

Another Government Committee, 'Parliament Standing Committee on Commerce', examined this issue and in its recommendations, said, "Blanket ban should be imposed on domestic and foreign corporate retailers from entering into retail trade in grocery and food items, and restrictions should be imposed on sale of other consumer products. Further licences should not be issued for ‘cash and carry' retail. Reservation policy should be adopted for small and medium retailers, and financial assistance should be provided for their modernization."

So, Anand Sharma, when he says about 10 million jobs will be created, he is not talking of the unemployed being employed, he is talking of re-employment of at least a million people. And, what pray were these million people doing earlier?

It will be directly from those who are currently practicing farming and involved otherwise in localized rural retailing. A 2008 report has the following to indicate the overall employment of rural work force in the 'non-farm' sector. There has been a consistent decline in what is known as 'secondary' sector in rural areas, this is those who are involved in areas other than that of farming. Many of those who live in the cities complain of non-availability of service providers for manual labour and other such work. However, it is far more difficult in rural area today.

While the no. of people who service the mobile phone has increased, those who know how to build and service a plough has decreased. The so called, value addition to the primary agricultural (why do we continue to call it 'primary' sector if it is of such least importance to the government?) sector that includes rural manufacturing / crafts and tradesmen have been on the decline (obviously this can even be seen by their share to GDP, though one wonders how that no. is captured).

Similarly, all through the last decade we have seen the reports of how several rural entrepreneur ventures that have been created by women SHGs have been largely failures than successes. Though this has been documented and the NGOs and MFIs blamed for the situation, one of the missing links has been that any worker who is skilled with a reasonable level of understanding of enterprise, has already migrated to the urban area or has been lured away by one of the large scale industries, rendering rural industries utterly people less. Rural manufactures and overall manufacturing and production industry (the so called 'secondary' sector) is being forced to adopt 'technology' based less human processes and despite their contribution to GDP are largely going the way Western countries have gone, employing less people.

Studies have reported the decline in labour for agriculture, but, it is even more difficult to find a priest to perform any local rites, it is difficult to find someone to fix the roof or make a chair, clean or dig a well or pond, deepen channels, produce fertilizer, produce the thousands of types of food items that were locally sold through the shops in the villages. A simple survey that we conducted last year showed that the 'branded' products today occupy close to 90% of rural retail shops as against about 40% ten years back.

Another study (yet to be published) by a college in Chennai indicates that a small agricultural village with a predominant population of agriculturists, found that except for agricultural produce of a few items, almost all other products that were sold came from outside the village and there was no production of any kind happening within the village. There is a gradual shift of those who were earlier in the manufacturing of products in the villages into 'salesmen' for items from large industrial production centres in urban and semi-urban areas. So, we have people selling everything from candies, cookies to mobile phones (not produce or service them though) available in the villages today, with no knowledge whatsover on how they can protect themselves from such products being done.

Basically, FDI in retail is process of re-categorization of the 'informal / casual sector' into the 'formal' sector. The issue is not about the nature of the sector as much as the sense of freedom of those who are employed in it. Across India it is common to find bureaucrats, bank managers, IAS / IFS officers...and all those counted as 'formal' sector, volunteering to work in the 'social' sector post-retirement (or if they were more courageous, take a voluntary retirement) and all of them have the same claim, 'I want to do what I couldn't do while in Service'! The structure that the 'formal' sector has become is closest to being in shackles if one were to think of the role of such functionaries as that of contributing to the national welfare. The sense of helplessness is highest for those in the 'organized' sector and despite the informal sector not share as per person economic contribution, people who love their freedom cannot with conscience work in this sector.

So, FDI in retail (and other such sectors that employ predominantly in the 'informal' sector) is a process of monetarily subjugating people who have otherwise pursued being free and practice their vocation without being a burden on the national exchequer.

The most unfortunate development is that such subjugation was not unanticipated, it was foretold, by the babus ad committees within the same 7%, the shackled ones.

But, we are in a hurry to align our economic growth curve with a deceptively 'global' one, deceptive as the contribution, control and contours of the global economic formation is changing in front of our eyes. But, weak vision is the current government's obsessive dysfunction.

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