The government of Odisha announced a huge financial ‘package’ of Rs17,000 crore in its cabinet meeting held on 29th May 2020. The government claims all declared funds would benefit people who are affected due to lockdown. Will it serve the objective? Who really would be benefited from it?

  1. Modification of Tourism policy:

The cabinet took its first decision that the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha, a public body, would be entrusted for selection, acquisition and distribution of land for hotel projects. Will it be helpful for Corona affected people? It may benefit in long run some new hoteliers and tourists. On what way it would bring benefit to already closed hotel-owners, thousands of hotel workers and all other dependent on tourism industry?

Government is silent: A large number of migrant workers are working in spinning mills of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Most of them have come back in these two months. There are 13 spinning mills in our state and all have been closed-down. Had those been revived workers would have been engaged there.

  1. Agriculture as professional course:

The government decided to treat course on agriculture as professional courses. How is it going to benefit the farmers who had sold tomatoes, brinjal, various fruits and flowers at throwaway prices due to the lockdown? There are two crore farmers in the state. The government cooperative agencies such as RMC and MARKFED could have been revived to purchase from the vegetable and fruit growers at government support prices.

Instead, the government has decided to push contract farming mainly to help big corporates like Reliance fresh to enter into agriculture. The people had opposed such project at time of drafting of the bill. Now the government thinks it is prudent to push it through during this crisis.

  1. Child care and Anganwadi Centres :

The government has decided to provide all enrolled children in the centre with shoes and socks. But the government has turned a blind eye towards the demand of 72,500 Anganwadi workers, same number of ASHA workers and thousands of municipality workers who are called as Corona warriors. The Anganawadi workers get Rs7500 pm which is less than what an unskilled labourer gets (Minimum wages of Odisha is Rs280/ per day) and the situation of all municipality workers in hand of private contractors is unthinkable. The government is silent on their requirements.

  1. Creation of new posts:

The cabinet has decided to create 192 new posts. It is only for administrative purposes. It is not relating to controlling Coronavirus nor is relating to revival of economy.

The government is very much silent on a) giving justice to thousands of men and women working on private schools, colleges, universities, nursing homes, malls, cinema halls, business establishments and various other institutions who have lost their salary/wages during the lockdown. Many of them have not got any salary on principle of no work no pay without their own faults. The government could have taken the responsibility of paying them a months’ salary and would have helped business establishment/institutions at time of distress.

  1. b) those who lost their jobs during lockdown. The government simply issued a letter not to retrench employees during COVID period. But the private sectors did not give any respect to it. The grievances of those sacked workers are not even listened.
  2. c) those tenants who have been thrown away by their landlords due to either non-payment of rents or due to refusal to pay enhanced rent.
  3. No allocation of fund for Public Health:

The state cabinet is totally silent on public health measures even during time of Coronavirus. What was expected from the government to do then?

  1. a) There was a time during this COVID period the private hospitals did not provide any service to public. They had closed their doors even for cancer and heart patients. But those hospitals have been provided with land at free of cost or at subsidised price. The government should have taken over the management of those hospitals because of violation under essential services.
  2. b) The cabinet did not think it proper to allocate more funds for public health dept. Had there been more funds for the research work and for public campaign then its severity would have been minimised.
  3. Sale of forest products by the adivasis

There is no such decisions by the cabinet of ministers for securing rights of for 90 lakh adivasis of our state. The cabinet could have taken decision of reviving government support cooperatives. Due to lockdown the adivasis have either thrown their collected seasonal forest produces or have sold on a minimal price. In normal time, they depend on such selling for 3 to 6 months a year.  The government cooperative institutes such as ORMAS, LAMPs or Tribal Cooperative marketing societies, which were earlier purchasing the forest produces at government fixed prices, are now lying defunct.

Instead, the Central government mining ministry has opened mining of coal and bauxite etc to private parties. It will displace quite a number of tribals of Odisha. The state cabinet did not discuss the matter in the cabinet apparently giving silent approval.

  1. Modification/suspension of Labor acts:

Instead of pronouncing any measures for helping the workers, the government is utilising lockdown as blessing to solve the problems of factory owners. It has amended the Factories Act 1948 and Industrial Dispute Act, 1959. As per amendment the factories employing upto 49 (earlier it was upto 10) workers will not be in mandatory list of providing any relief or compensation in case of accidents or non-payments of wages. Already the government of Odisha had enhanced working hours to 12 hours a day. All these decisions of the cabinet would leave workers at the mercy of factory owners. This would impel them to be sacrificed in name of revival of economy.

Conclusion: it is important that the rights of the citizens are not violated and need be protected at any cost in a democratic country. It is not important what a government has done because they are supposed to do it, but it is definitely shameful if any citizen dies due to lack of protection. The cabinet decisions of Odisha state government have failed to fulfil the requirement of farmers, tribals, workers and common man. During the lockdown, the migrant workers walked thousands of miles to reach home, farmers become impoverished, adivasis remained unfed, the youths loose their present jobs and on other hand it has created golden opportunity for the corporates. The COVID 19 pandemic offered a golden opportunity for both the state governments and the central governments to usher in such economic refroms which would have been otherwise impossible in normal times. During this lockdown, the labor laws are relaxed, Vedanta and Jindal Co are getting chance to loot bauxite, coal and other material, Reliance fresh will get contract farming in agriculture sector, Tata gets state electricity board at throw away prices and has already retrenched workers. It is a time of profit for them.

Oh Corona, you are not only a pandemic a red carpet too!

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Prepared by: Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakha Sangathan, Odisha

Write to: The President, GASS Odisha. Email: gassbhubaneswara@gmail.com


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