“Six months ago, we were suddenly upgraded from D category to A. Good news for us, some would say. But in reality extremely bad for us – we are now comparable to the best industrial estates of Mumbai and Pune and have had to revise our workers’ wages accordingly. We are shelling out Rs. 1200/ to 1500/ extra per worker since last six months” says Captain Randhir Mohan, President of MIA, Hingna, Nagpur that has 1350 industrial plots of which around 1000+ have running industries. (Many plots housing more than one industry.)
Not in size, but in numbers this is still the largest industrial zone of Nagpur, the second capital of Maharashtra, and after talking to the captains of industry here, you want to stand up and salute the heroes who have kept their factories and therefore the stoves in their 50,000 workers’ kitchens running. They are beset with so many problems, which are getting worse rather than getting better over the last five decades that you realize that it is only their willpower that keeps them going. Otherwise, the state, that is supposed to be their patron has left no stone unturned in ensuring their closure. Their apathy and neglect of the labour class is so apalling, it borders on criminal.
Strong words – I realize, but just look at the facts:
Every month, 6.5% of every worker’s salary goes to the ESIC – 1.5% contributed from the worker’s monthly pay and 4.5% compulsory contribution from the industries employing them. If they fail or delay in paying up, they can straight away be thrown into jail, so draconian is the Act controlling this. What is ESIC? The official portal defines it as the” Employees’ state Insurance Corporation of India, that is a multidimensional social system tailored to provide socio-economic protection to worker to population and their dependants covered under the scheme. Besides full medical care for self and dependants, that is admissible from day one of insurable employment, the insured persons are also entitled to a variety of cash benefits in times of physical distress due to sickness, temporary or permanent disablement etc. resulting in loss of earning capacity, the confinement in respect of insured women, dependants of insured persons who die in industrial accidents or because of employment injury or occupational hazard are entitled to a monthly pension called the dependants benefit. …” Under this scheme, one of the facilities that has to be provided by the State is medical facilities to the workers and their families. Clinics at Industrial estates and a Central multi specialty Hospital in the city. The clinics should be open whenever the factories are running so they can provide immediate first aid in case of industrial mishaps or some worker going into critical health crisis – right? Today though it is a Sunday, the factories were all working – their off is on Wednesdays – but the clinic was shut. A driver working for an MIDC officer who lives on the premises said “ this clinic is supposed to be open at 10 a.m. and has two Doctors. But in reality, it NEVER opens before 11.30 and often no Doctor is available and neither are any medicines. There isn’t even an ambulance to take patients to the city. Last week, a worker brought his six years’ old child to the clinic. The child was in a bad shape with terrible stomach pain and high fever. The man waited and waited for some aid and finally we advised him to take the child to the Medical college or some other hospital – not the ESIC hospital in the city which has similar conditions.”
Says D.N. Gupta, Secretary Federation of Industries Association of Vidarbha, who is a CA, “even if a Doctor is present and can see that the worker is apparently sick and needs immediate attention, he is sent back to his factory to get a signature on From 37 from an authorized executive. This form is supposed to show he/she is a ‘live case’. They can easily get this information from a list they have on their computers, updated by Companies periodically, but they never do so!” The executives of MIA speaking with NT cited a case of a worker who had cancer and had to be treated at a specialist Cancer hospital which is approved by ESIC and so 100% re imbursement of medical expenses should be given. The worker kept making rounds of the ESIC office, got no aid, and finally died leaving his family to pay his medical bills. This is the situation when the compulsory contribution of Hingna industries easily crosses Rs. 3 crores every month. The question is – where does this money go? Point to note is that ESIC is a joint scheme of State and Central Governments. As many employers will tell you, when an old and trusted employee falls sick, out of humanitarian considerations the employer will bear his medical expenses and be done with it. The only place ESIC really seems to be spending any money is their ultra modern and posh corporate office near Central Bus stand of Nagpur. You go to their main hospital or any of their clinics and even the poorest and most desparate person wouldn’t get his wife or child admitted there, unless he didn’t care for their well being.
“The ONLY time a worker utilizes the ESIC clinic facility is when he wants to get a false ‘medical certificate’ to avail of paid leave. The worker gives a cut to the Doctor on a ‘per day’ basis and gets his work done” Said D.N. Gupta.
Local transport facilities A recent visitor to Nagpur exclaimed ” You have so many Audis and high end luxury cars!” On Sunday mornings, one will also see ‘luxury’ cycles on the roads with enthusiasts cycling for health and exercise. Also morning walkers clad in natty winter wear. But go to an MIDC area at 6 a.m. in winter months and you will see neither Audis nor high end cycles – you will see HUNDREDS of workers trudging to work on foot, or on their old and ordinary cycles or looking for ‘dukkars’ (autos) to take them to their place of work. WHY? Because city buses will just drop them to Hingna or Wadi – the entire MIDC area spread over thousands of acres has no internal local transport facilities. Neither are many of the industries so big that they can offer bus services to their employees. So workers either cycle to work or travel till the bus will take them and then make their own way – which could mean a walk of 3-4 kms before a tiring 8 hours’ shift. With early morning traffic of heavy vehicles and trucks it is a hazardous walk too – but who really cares? The industrialists say they have time and again petitioned for bus services that extend to within the MIDC area, but to no avail.
This was about the workers, now read about the grievances of the MANAGEMENT or the employers.
If you run an industry in Nagpur you are ‘blessed’ with the highest power tarrifs, (minimum Rs. 8/ per unit) highest taxes, higher labour wages – even the most expensive petrol. One cannot understand the justice of Vidarbha industries paying the same power tariffs as the rest of the state though Nagpur area is a Coal producer and has two super thermal power stations its vicinity. Thus there is minimal transmission loss when power is distributed locally vis a vis almost 20% loss when it is transmitted to Konkan or Mumbai. This steep cost makes power based industries like foundries, iron and steel mills unviable to begin with. To rub salt in their wounds, Maharashtra is the only state that does not levy ENTRY TAX to goods coming from neighboring states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and A.P. Traders from there can get SSI registrations in Maharashtra and just transport material to be supplied even in Government tenders. If these local industries try to market their products to the states around in addition to their higher cost of production, they have to bear entry taxes of those states so such trade is out of question! Thus they can compete neither within the state nor outside…
The lease holders of MIDC estates pay commerical rates for water and power and also maintenance to the state directly. Yet they also have to pay local gram panchayat taxes of the villages they fall under. But in return they get no infrastructure , maintenance or any facilities in return. ” Said C.G. Shegaonkar – Secretary of MIA. “Actually, it is a liability for us – these villages. They use our internal roads for traveling from village to village, dirty them every morning by open defecation, leaving us to literally clean their shit!” Since there is no connecting road between Wadi ( Amraoti road) and Hingna, the MIDC road was ‘borrowed’ by Transport Ministry for outside traffic too – including heavy trucks. But it falls to the industrialists to mantain this road too which is totally washed out after every monsoons, Nagpur having the famous ‘black cotton soil’.
Again to add insult to injury, the residents of MIDC, Hingna were paying at two toll nakas for the cost of roads outside their area – benefiting rest of Nagpur. After many complains finally they get very limited number of passes for Directors’ cars only. So any material or goods they need at their factories – even bricks, or hardware, they have to pay at toll nakas.
” We worship FORTY THREE Gods every year” says Shekhar Bendre -Vice President jokingly. Which in lay terms means forty three inspectors of various departments related to industry come for audit and checking every year. “Despite all the talks of liberalization ( which might have helped the big boys of industry) for us license Raj is still alive and thriving”. The only difference that fifty years of existence has seen is the fellow who began his career as an Inspector had less of an appetite and could be appeased by a Rs. 500/ note but today the same man is of Dy. Director level so demands FEES commensurate with his level – at least Rs. 5000 or above? Depends on the department he represents. The most usurious is the Pollution Control Board that is supposed to check for Industrial Safety and Health etc. Their ‘cost of permission’ has gone up ten times over the years. Unless for their OK, an industry cannot get their manufacturing license renewed. The C.M. speaking at CEAT stone laying ceremony recently announced that permissions needed to start industries in the state would be brought down from around 50 to 25 or 20. “How about giving us – already existing industries – some relief from these Inspectors?” ask industrialists.
Finally speaking about the 209 industries affected by the RRZ act – for protection of Nag nallah (river?) Mr. Mayank Shukla M.D. of Nirav Industries and immediate past president of IMA said though the industries are over 50 years old and the RRZ is recent, their existence has been threatened, even though they may be zero effluent industries. They cannot add to their machinery, expand their production or make any changes due to RRZ. Their annual renewals are also jeopardized. These industries give employment to at least 1500 workers, who are as good as out of jobs now. Mr. Devendra Fadnis, C.M. had promised recently that these industries would be removed from the purview of the RRZ but the G.R. to this effect hasn’t come yet.
Speaking about the Nag nallah that empties into the Ambazari lake, Captain Randhir said that the nallah contains swerage of Wadi and many other villages by the time it makes its way to Ambazari. There is no purification process before Ambazari what so ever. This is the water that is circulated or rather SOLD to MIDC for even drinking purpose. “You fill a glass with this Ambazari water and leave it overnight. Next morning it will have at least an inch of brown sedimentation settled at the bottom. And we are told that ‘tests carried out’ have shown this water is potable. We asked the water works department chap to drink this glass in our presence, he naturally refused! So give us dirty, shitty water and then you close down our industries by accusing us only of polluting this dirty, nallah water?” Asked MIA executives angrily.
In synopsis one can see that the conditions under which Industries exist, specially In Nagpur which is the only industrialized city of Vidarbha, they are dismal and disheartening. Cost of production due to various inputs is the highest and one has to run to Mumbai or Pune for most of the permissions – still. We mine coal, produce power, we suffer from all the environmental hazards and pollutants yet still pay the same as industries situated thousand kilometers away; we pay same wages despite being ‘backward’ where facilities are concerned – and most of all we suffer from lying in the close vicinity of M.P., Chattisgarh and A.P. where conditions for doing business are much easier. Most of all – our labour, despite being mostly from tribal and dalit section of society are treated with utmost contempt and neglect. This Government says it wants to make Maharashta, specially Vidarbha “industry friendly”. Will they show some proof of their intent by listening to the woes of these industrialists?
As, the P.I. of the Police station at Hingna said to NT – more than a industrial hub this area is now an educational centre. It has dozens of colleges, mostly engineering. If the industries here were given conditions to flourish and grow the young engineers passing out from these colleges would find employment right at their doorstep. If not jobs, they could aspire to start some SSI of their own – since Nagpurians have shown great propensity as entrepreneurs. Lacking such opportunities it would be very easy to fall prey to the temptations of the many ‘wine shops’ and beer bars that dot the Hingna road interspersed with colleges and girls’ hostels. (How in the first place were all these given permission?) The condition today is so pathetic that P.I. Mahesh Patil said that the largest number of criminal cases reported to him is the theft of p.cs and mobile phones of students and cycles of labour class. ‘Robbery’ seems to be the most thriving profession. Will things change – or will it be time for Atlas to shrug?
Just read this immortal quote from Ayn Ryand – “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him? I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him? To shrug.”
– Sunita Mudaliar