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Modern Slavery: GOVT PRIORITY MUST CHANGE, By Dr Oishee Mukherjee, 10 August 2018 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 10 August 2018

Modern Slavery


By Dr Oishee Mukherjee


Next week as India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day, it needs to take stock of the progress it has made. A startling report published recently should make the government frown if a thorough analysis is done. The nation has eight million modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index 2018. Moreover, among 167 countries India ranked 53rd in terms of prevalence, with 6.1 victims for every thousand people. North Korea was at the top of the list with 104.6 per 1000, which should be no consolation.


Though the government promptly denied the report, one cannot reject the fact that modern slavery as defined by the team covered a set of legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices and human trafficking, and makes India’s ranking no better. In the India chapter, the study stated “while modern slavery clearly occurs within India, the reality of global trade and business make it inevitable that India, like many other countries globally, will also be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through imports.”


The report also noted that globally, nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of modern slavery’s victims are women and girls. There are more female than male victims across all forms of modern slavery. And here too, India has a problem. Women and children from the economically weaker sections are worst-affected and become easy victims. The worst form is human trafficking, which repeatedly hits the headlines with even minor girls falling easy prey. Then there are children from poor families, who unfortunately get caught into forced labour, sometimes hazardous in nature.       


So, while our governments talk of achievements, it is indeed distressing to note that over the decades the social sector has not progressed to the extent desired. This, even after the years of high GDP growth, which political parties in power, have boasted of, but in reality it doesn’t match the perspective of development of poor and economically weaker sections. 


On the one hand, income of the rural people is on the decline and we are witnessing farmers’ protests across the country, and on the other there is an increase in the annual declared assets of our political parties. The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has reported that these include the Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, All India Forward Bloc and the Shiv Sena.  ADR’s report on assets and liabilities found that during financial year 2011-12 the declared assets of SP was Rs 213 crore, which increased by 198 per cent to Rs 635 crore in 2015-16. And the average assets declared by 20 regional parties during 2011-12 was Rs 24 crore, which increased to Rs 66 crore in 2015-16.


How can official incomes, not to speak of actual incomes, of political parties increase at a time the poorer segments of society are fighting for a dignified existence? Are the political parties under the influence of business groups, who they align with to fulfil their interests of getting all facilities at reduced rates? It is no denying that over the years, the political-business nexus has turned the focus of formulating India’s development strategy in favour of big projects and also in favour of the urban sector.


As mentioned by the undersigned several times earlier, GDP growth cannot be considered an index of real development. While GDP measurement does not cover a wide range of things – including yearly losses from environmental damages etc, -- such growth does not change conditions of the people whose incomes and standards of living need to be raised. Therefore, it can safely be said that the socio-economic transformation as claimed hasn’t taken place.


Further, while nobody should question the nation spending thousands of crores on its security, recent defence deals suggest that large chunk of the budget goes into the wrong hands, instead of being spent for the people’s welfare. Controversy raises its head, as allegations are made that in these mega deals, a segment, say around 15-20 per cent or even more, perhaps goes into the coffers of the political party in power, and sometimes to enable payment of such commission, the prices are obviously raised.


This parliament session, Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused the government of a mega scam in the Rafale aircraft deal. He charged the Modi government of raising the price --from Rs 520 crore as negotiated by the UPA government to Rs 1600 cr, after Modi’s visit to France. He also sought to know why a Rs 45,000 crore contract was taken away from the State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and instead handed to his ‘corporate friend’, who has never built an airplane and had a debt of Rs 35,000 crore.    


In the early decades our republic, tycoons and plutocrats tended to exercise their power from behind the scenes but, in recent years, they come out flaunting their wealth and political power. Thus grass-root development cannot be reality and poor villagers would continue to languish in poverty and squalor.


Again a recent example of corporate affinity has been the inclusion of Jio Institute, which is yet to start operations, as an institution of eminence. It is indeed surprising that how can an institution that has yet to take off be included in that category when there are several institutions doing remarkably well and yet excluded. Eminent educationists have rightly questioned the government’s move, which on the face of it smacks of undue favouritism. What is necessary is the need for a political will to ensure independence and professionalism in our institutions, specially in the realm of education.     


Then we have a situation wherein a section of economists, directly or indirectly aligned to the government want subsidies in the agriculture sector to be withdrawn but not to the corporate class. Sadly, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is spent by the corporate on their sweet will and it is doubtful whether at all it helps to accomplish the laid out principles of the government in developing social infrastructure or the money is just given to those who are close to the top hierarchy of companies.    


The government, which ever it may be must adopt a better strategy. The focus should be on the rural sector and developing its institutions to make them harbingers of change geared to the interests of the masses. Unless the incomes of the rural population are increased and social sector reforms are in place, ‘modern slavery’ will not be passe’.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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