Recently a mass unemployment threat has arisen in the National Capital Region (NCR) of India, in densely populated cities and towns like Panipat, Sonipat , Bahadurgarh, Ballabhgarh and Faridabad. Several hundred thousand jobs may be lost. Thousands of industrial units temporarily suspended work on October 1.

At a more obvious level, it is being said that this crisis situation has arisen due to the failure of an overwhelming majority of the industrial units located in the NCR to meet the deadline set by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) for switching from more polluting fuels to less polluting or cleaner fuels. At a less obvious but very significant level, this threat has arisen due to lack of adequate planning and coordination on the part of the relevant government agencies. After all, the concerned industries can switch over to cleaner fuels and the related technologies only if they can access these, and unfortunately, this is not the situation for most of them.

Of course the importance of reducing pollution as much as possible is all too self-evident and cannot be over-emphasized, all the more so in the context of Delhi and nearby areas where air pollution has become an extremely serious health problem. Precisely for this reason (as well as well as for reducing fossil fuels to check climate change), it is important to plan properly for adequate pollution control measures with the coordination of various government departments and agencies. This planning should include, to give a more obvious example, that if a certain number of industrial units have to shift to a cleaner fuel by a certain date, then the availability of that fuel by this date should be ensured. But what appears to be happening in most industrial hubs of NCR is that there is glaring shortage of cleaner fuels and related equipment to meet the needs of all those industrial units which are ready to switch over to clean fuels.

This is not to say that there has been no negligence on the part of industry owners. But at least all those who are willing to invest in switching to cleaner fuel and equipment should have been able to access these readily well before the deadline. As many of these units are small units, they should also have been allowed access to credit for this purpose. In the case of smaller and struggling units, the more difficult conditions like big security deposits could have been waived or their burden reduced. However there has been a huge failure of advance planning and coordination among various agencies resulting in a situation in which the overwhelming majority of industrial units either cannot access the cleaner fuels or cannot afford them, or suffer on both accounts. This is what has brought the threat of closure of thousands of industrial units and further unemployment of several hundred thousand workers at a time when unemployment is already such a serious problem at the national level.

In a city like Panipat, which is considered a textile hub at world level, there are reported to be around 25,000 industrial units—big, medium, small, micro with over 600,000 workers employed in them.  Following the closure of a large number of industrial units on October 1, several migrant workers are thinking of returning to their villages. Although in villages also there is no employment waiting for them, but the cost of living there is expected to be lower. This unemployment has appeared at the time of festival season when otherwise they would be enjoying peak employment and earning conditions. Exports will also suffer badly due to sudden closure. Due to mutual dependence, closure of certain industries can also make things difficult for others which depend on them. Industry spokespersons have pointed out that if a manufacturer needs a gas boiler then he has to wait to six months to one year to get this. The situation just now is that 400 units in the city have to change to gas boilers but only 34 could do so.

From Ballabhgarh city there are reports that about 3000 units units need PNG connections, but only 25 have been able to access this so far.  The smaller units cannot also afford the big security deposit.

Many of these problems could have been avoided with proper detailed planning and coordination of various state agencies. In reality various involved agencies have been functioning in isolation from each other. One agency goes ahead with its own narrow agenda, forgetting that for implementation to succeed other important actions have to be simultaneously taken up by other agencies. It is high time that coordination of various agencies should be ensured so that various industrial units can actually switch over to cleaner fuels instead of getting destroyed by orders which cannot be followed immediately under the existing constraints. One way out would be to avoid the pollution of the most risk-prone weeks by temporary closure for short periods, while at the same time stepping up efforts significantly to increase the supply of cleaner feels and matching equipment as well as easy credit for this. At the same time workers and industry should be assured that there will be revival, and during the shorter period of temporary unemployment the workers will get special help from the government.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, A Day in 2071 and Planet in Peril.

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