State-Judiciary pact in the neoliberal times – MFC Discussion [3]

A sharp, clear speaking labour lawyer presents this case of Andhra Pradesh Mining Development Corporation (APMDC) which violated occupational health and safety laws in a quartz mine opened in 1964 in a remote location in Mehboobnagar district.

Case Status: Ongoing, Writ Petition in Andhra Pradesh High Court

Facts:  A quartz mine of APMDC operated from 1964 to 1975. 400 workers  worked in the mines during its period of operation. The location of the mine is remote. In the 1980s almost  all the former workers start dying in three villages of the district. There is a rush to various hospitals in the state by the affected families for treatment. Hospitals diagnose the conditions differently – pharyngitis  tuberculosis etc. Only one, Ramamurthy Hospital diagnosed it as silicosis- an occupational disease. The media gives these deaths extensive coverage. Subsequently AP govt steps in and sends a committee comprising of 5 doctors to the district.

An investigation by Union ministry team finds 136 workers dead and 191 workers critically ill in the year 2000. As on 2013  a writ petition is pending.

The lawyer presenting the case highlights the kind of questions being raised in this case where a compensation is being claimed by the workers’ families and state is being held responsible for the deaths:

  1. The deaths happened in the period 1984-1985. Why has the petition come so late?
  2.  The petition should have been filed under  Workers Compensation Act instead of  clogging the High Court which has a huge backlog of cases.
  3. There s no documentation of this disaster. Therefore, filing charges on APMDC has been difficult.
  4. Workers are being asked – Where is your identity? How do we know you have worked in this mine? PF card, health card… any card? How do we fix the claim on APMDC?

In all these, not a single question was directed at the State. Then there is an enquiry report from a union ministry and yet State doesn’t act or intervene in the situation. Judiciary it is said checks the action of the legislature. In all these years it has not questioned the State! There is not a single question directed against the State where its agency APMDC has shown blatant disregard for workers’ medical care, rehabilitation and  even a basic enquiry.

It is interesting how the situation is being framed.The line of critique to me appears incomplete and rather hasty –

There is some kind of a pact between the judiciary and the State. The pact is “I will not ask you and you will not question”.  This is the backbone of our liberalization.  Actually… we have no labour laws. The state has completely abdicated itself. It is this kind of silence we see in our judiciary!

Work, Health & Rights – MFC Discussion [1]

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Medico Friends Circle completes 40 years with this annual conference in Hyderabad. Seeing the energy and quality of discussions this morning is admirable. The gathering is quite diverse – activists, NGOs, researchers, development professionals, engineers and doctors (although the name suggests that it is a group of medical professionals.

Theme of this MFC meet is Work, Health and Rights.

The concerns within this are about what is work, work conditions and gender, particularly in the unorganized sector. Now, the distinction between organized and unorganized sector is not straight forward or simple. The concern originates from the health care situation of 97% of the work force in India today. To address this, it would be required to structurally analyze the forms of legal, economic and social relationships in which the workers exist with their employers.

Organized/Unorganized categorization is based on sectors of production, whereas, workers can be employed under formal and informal modes. One view is that it is a convenient economic-legal categorization which grades people on the degree of benefits they receive as a part of work force. The other is that the categorization of organized sector began with the Factories Act.

Agriculture has been mostly informal but with MNCs coming in many aspects of agriculture has become organized yet the workers have remain unorganized. There are problems when an industry begins to get organized. And these problems are of concern to development and growth.  Two primary concerns in defining nature of sector and work are-

  • Legality
  • Social Security

The right to unionize should be of critical importance when a sector organizes. This according to one view, helps ensure social security which should be of primary concern from a gender perspective.

Unorganized-organized categorization would soon become irrelevant in the neoliberal world says one participant citing the  case of Rajasthan government where employees who were made permanent after 2004 do not have any pension benefits or security.. They only take a monthly salary.

Contrary to this, some perceive that the categorization is a fairly clear one at that and there are two markers of such a distinction-

  • Worker – direct hires, contract workers (under ESI Act).
  • Entitlements – employer provided, employee-employee contributory model, safety net (RG Yojana)

When in 2006 it was declared that “menial services” will be contracted out in the public sector why didn’t anyone object? The dalits were completely pushed out from the resultant opportunities. In the government sector dalits were turned away. And therefore, it is necessary that the meet discusses caste and class also.

The view that these categories are becoming redundant is held by quite a few. “Today we find that a permanent worker is an endangered species says a former trade union worker.” The sector is moving towards dissolving this employer-employee relation.

I find it interesting that the people here concern themselves with figuring out these overwhelmingly confusing categories of organized-unorganized and formal- informal work. It is interesting because here is a group comprising mostly of practitioners and fieldworkers and not academicians who find it problematic the way workers are seen and engaged with rests on such arbitrary system.