As a newspaper and organisation that is partisan to the workers and toilers, we have been asking the leaders of the working people as to how the toilers of India view the reforms that were started 20 years ago. Whether the working class and people have benefitted from these reforms or have suffered? In the 16-31 October issue, we had begun this series with an interview of the General Secretary of the Communist Ghadar party of India, Comrade Lal Singh. In the November 1-15 issue, we had published the interviews with the leaders of the unions of the banking and port sectors and of the loco pilots. In the November 16-30 issue, we published interviews with Insurance, Central and Western Railway Motormen’s Association, Postal Employees and a Trade Union leader of Thane District. In the December 1-15 issue, we published the interviews of leaders of the workers in some other sectors of the economy. In this issue, we bring you interviews with leaders of the air and rail transport sectors.
Interview with Dr. Ganesh Sabnis, President, Air India Aircraft Engineers Association
MEL: What has been the impact of the policies of privatization, liberalization and globalization – “LPG” , launched by the then Finance Minster Mr. Manmohan Singh in 1991 on the Indian economy over the last twenty years?
GS: The employers have benefitted. The working people have not. For example in Air India, 10,000 out of a total 40,000 employees are contract workers. Previously, you could not employ a contract worker for more than 90 days. So the Government used to hire them for 89 days and give them a break in service of a few days and rehire them. In 1996, 2000 such “contract” workers who had been working for Air India for decades , went to court. In a landmark judgment the Supreme Court had ordered that these workers be made permanent. But now contract workers are being employed everywhere.
Due to the contract system, workers can be employed at very low wages without any benefits whatsoever. My wife works in a Government Engineering College. Here postgraduates who have a Ph.D. degree are hired on contract basis at Rs. 4,000/month.
The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. The GDP is increasing but why are so many farmers committing suicide? The prices of foodstuffs are galloping and inflation is rampant. Since working people are not able to buy food grains , the government is forced to pass a Food Security Bill to prevent mass starvation.
The majority of working people’s condition has not improved. Just look at the transport system. Our trains are over-crowded and the daily commute to work is hell. The situation is similar in all sectors. The government wants to introduce Foreign Direct Investment in retail trade. The big MNCs will set up big malls. Initially they will offer a higher price to the farmers. But once established they will source the cheapest material from anywhere in the world. What will happen to the poor farmers of India?
MEL: What has been the impact of LPG on the Air India?
GS: As you know the government merged the two national carriers, Air India(AI) and Indian Airlines(IA). The annual revenues since the merger have come down to Rs. 13,000 crores whereas before the merger they were Rs17,000 crores. The merger has destroyed both IA and AI. It was not planned properly. There is no vision. The ground work was not done . Route rationalization was not planned. Some aircraft are flying on routes for which they do not have the capacity. There has been infighting between the two managements.
The Government appointed an MNC, Deloitte along with SBICap to submit a plan for the revival of Air India. They have recommended that ground handling and engineering services be hived off into a separate company.
They have already selectively hived off the ground handling operations of Cochin, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad. A new company AI Ground Handling Company + Singapore SATS(Singapore Air Transport Services) has been formed.
The ground handling department was earning revenue from other airlines as well as providing free support to Air India. It was a profit making centre. It was the first to be privatized(in select cities). Air India SATS is now charging Air India for this service and 50% of AI’s revenues goes to SATS.
The hiving off of AI-SATS was carried out by Mr. Praful Patel. The MD before Mr.Jadhav, Mr. Raghav Menon was asked to sign the deal. He refused and he was removed and Jadhav brought in .
Now they want to form AIESL( Air India Engineering Services Ltd.). This was registered as a separate company three years back. All the engineering assets of Air India will be transferred to this company. For three years our salaries will be paid by Air India. They claim that in a phased manner, the new company should become a profit making centre and earn from servicing foreign aircraft. At present the engineering division services only AI aircraft.
To service foreign aircraft, we need certification from EASA(European Aviation Safety Agency) and FAA(Federal Aviation Authority, USA). At present we are following the norms laid down by DGCA(Director General of Civil Aviation). We need to upgrade our infrastructure to get approval from these agencies. We need to convert our hangers into fully dustproof ones as well as many other facilities need to be added. We have 31 hangers currently all over India. None of them are dust proof. It will demand a huge expenditure to convert these. Where will the money come from?
The Government signed an agreement with Boeing to set up a state of the art aircraft repair facility at Nagpur. This was done because Nagpur was the constituency of Mr. Praful Patel. Nagpur does not have the facilities to receive large airplanes. Even to transport an engine for repair from Mumbai to Nagpur was nearly impossible. Taking all this into account, Boeing later pulled out of the agreement.
One of the reasons given for hiving off the engineering services is that the present wage bill is very high and that is the reason AI is making losses. But the fact is that engineers in AI are paid less than those in private airlines and much less than in international carriers. The separate entity will hire at even lower wages. So there will be two categories of people doing the same job, one on contract and the other so called “permanent”. This will lead to conflict between these two sections. To work in Air India as an engineer, a license is required. Many years of training are required to acquire this. The Government spends over Rs 10 lakhs per engineer on training him on modern aircraft repairs and maintenance. We have to sign a bond to serve AI for a minimum period of years. Once a person is hired on contract, he will acquire the training at Government expense and leave and join private companies.
Now AIESL is to be formed to look after maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of all types of aircraft. But they do not have any clear vision on this. We have asked the AI management that if running MRO would be a profitable enterprise, why have not any of the private players such as Jet and Kingfisher started their own MRO operations.
Of the total 30,000 permanent employees, the Government wants to hive off 23,000 of them into separate entities, ground handling and maintenance. This would leave AI with only 7,000 employees, namely pilots and cabin crew. They have started hiring cabin crew on contract.
They want to sell off the land which in Mumbai itself is around 300 acres and has a huge real estate value. Ultimately they will declare the AI as sick and sell it off.
AI management has adopted policies which are directly favouring private airlines, both Indian and foreign. For example there are bilateral agreements between Air India and other Airlines where the number of passengers each can carry on particular routes is predetermined. However on the pretext that AI does not have sufficient aircraft, Indian and foreign airlines are allowed to take over AI’s share of the passengers on different routes.
In addition profitable routes and timings are handed over to private airlines. For example on the Mumbai to Delhi route, the morning, 7-8 a.m flight, has the highest demand. This is given to private airlines and AI is Ieft with operating nearly empty flights in the very early morning, 4-5 a.m!
The employees of AI have not been paid their full salary since August 2011. We are only being paid 33% of our salary, which is the basic pay. The other 67%, which consists of allowances and entitlements has not been paid. Since October, even the basic pay has not been given. This means that for the last two months we are working and running our families without being paid a single paisa! We have been told that whatever revenues are being earned by AI, payment is made first to the oil companies as payment for fuel costs as well as to banks as interest for loans. Nothing remains after this to pay our salaries. We have been very patient, but now our patience is at an end.
Because of the mental stress of working without pay, and due to financial commitments already made, the number of mistakes committed by the engineers on duty are increasing. As a result they have to face disciplinary action. The safety of the passengers is also thus endangered.
I request your paper to widely publicise the conditions of the employees of Air India and the wrong policies adopted by the management.
MEL: Thank you very much for your time. We have always supported the struggles of Air India employees and have consistently carried articles highlighting the situation in AI. We will continue doing the same.
Interview with Comrade B.S. Rath (BSR), President , Mumbai Division , All India Railway Employees Confederation(AIREC), Representative and Advisor to Western Railway Motormen’s Association
MEL: What has been the impact of the policies of privatization, liberalization and globalization – “LPG” , launched by the then Finance Minster Mr.Manmohan Singh in 1991 on the Indian economy over the last twenty years?
BSR: The Rupee has been devalued drastically in this period. The Rupee which was around Rs 15 per dollar in 1991, is now only Rs.50 per dollar, which means a loss in value of more than 300%. Hence, our purchasing power in the world markets has come down. Our imports have become very expensive. Technology has become expensive. Since the Indian market was opened up, cheap Chinese goods have forced the small and medium scale industries to close down throwing large sections of workers on the streets. Unemployment has increased.
Corruption has increased. To get a job you have to pay money. The working class and lower middle class are badly affected by these policies.
When the policy was first announced we were told that foreign technology will come in and with this our industries would be modernized. But what ahs happened? Take the soft drinks industry. Previously we had many Indian soft drinks manufacturers . But with the entry of Pepsi and Coke, they have all been taken over or closed down. How did scams like the Harshad Mehta scam of 1993 take place? Manmohan Singh, is an economist ; he is an ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank, and he was brought in straight from the IMF to become the Finance Minister and he must tell us why he allowed this to happen?
Previously there were many tax savings schemes , such as post office savings schemes etc, in which the working class and lower middle class could invest their savings. But these have disappeared and we are now forced to invest in shares and mutual funds which directly benefit the corporate sector.
After the NDA government took power in 1999, the call rates of National Telecom companies , MTNL and BSNL were jacked up to give direct benefit to the private telecom players who were just entering the market such as Reliance and Tatas. At that time Pramod Mahajan was the Telecom Minister. Whereas previously 250 free calls were allowed, this was reduced to 150 and at the same time the call charges were increased.
So both the Congress and BJP Governments have followed the same policies. The multinational corporations and Indian big capitalists have gained. They have expanded their business and many Indian capitalists have become multinational.
MEL: What has been the impact of LPG on the Railways?
BSR: There has been no new recruitment in the railways during this period. This has resulted in increased workload for the existing staff. The number of contract workers has increased. The officers who are supposed to monitor whether these contract workers are getting their minimum wages are hand in glove with the contractors.
Privatization has not improved the facilities to the public. Take the case of bedding in sleeper coaches. The quality of bedding offered was so poor, with torn and dirty bed sheets etc that the railways was forced to take over the supply of clean bedding in ‘important” routes. The quality of the food has also gone down.
In the name of modernization , equipment is purchased at exorbitant cost. For example in the new A/C D/C rakes being operated in the metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta, energy meters have been fitted. These were totally unnecessary since the computerized system installed in the new rakes already provided the required data.
Imagine the total loss to the railways. Each energy meter costs Rs 2 lakhs. There are 6 energy meter per rake, at a cost of Rs 12 lakhs. There are 100 rakes per railway; hence the total cost on account of these rakes for Mumbai, including Central and Western Railways, at Rs.12 crores each, amounted to a total Rs. 25 crores. All four metros taken together, an unnecessary cost of over Rs.60 crores was incurred!
While passenger fares have not been increased much in the last several years, the railways have built in methods for collecting money by charging extra for reservation, cancellation. It has changed the classifications of trains, to collect additional money on this account etc.
We in AIREC are trying to build an All India Confederation of Railway employees. In this confederation all the different sections of the railway employees such as engine drivers( represented by AILRSA), guards (represented by All India Guards Council), Station Masters( represented by All India Station Masters Association), signal and telecommunication staff, etc., will be represented. We are trying to unite the railway men, cutting across party affiliations. Today the working class, including the railways is divided into unions which are controlled by political parties. This has severely hampered the cause of the unity of the working class including railway men. We in AIREC are working to overcome this division.
MEL: What should the working class do to oppose the polices of LPG?
BSR: The government is announcing many development projects. The people are opposing these in many places. Before going ahead with any project there should be a full discussion on the benefits and losses due to such projects with all the concerned people. Only then should the project be implemented.
Merely singing a song does not make anybody patriotic. One is a patriot if one sacrifices for the nation.
Interview with Com. Hansraj Sivach, the President of the Kisan Sangarsh Samiti and leader of the peasants of Gorakhpur village
The Haryana Government has proposed a nuclear power plant in village Gorakhpur in the Fatehabad district. The peasants of Gorakhpur village have been sitting in protest against this project for 518 days at the district headquarters. Activists of Lok Raj Sangathan went to Gorakhpur on Jan 12, 2012 to express their solidarity with the protesting peasants. They also participated in the demonstrations against the project.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar’s reporter interviewed Com. Hansraj Sivach, the President of the Kisan Sangarsh Samiti and leader of the peasants of Gorakhpur village. Exerpts of the interview are given below:
M.E.L: What is the reason for opposing the proposed nuclear power project?
Hansraj Sivach: This nuclear power project is a threat to the Bhakra canal, which irrigates the fields in Rajasthan and Haryana. Secondly, 1313 acres of Gorakhpur village, 4 acres of Kajalhedi village and 185 acres of Badopal village will be directly acquired. In addition, 36 other villages will also be affected. Thirdly, the land that will be acquired for the project is very fertile and is triple cropped. This land produces 45 maunds of cotton, 550 quintals of sugarcane and 80-90 maunds of rice per acre annually.
M.E.L: What actions has the government taken on account of this project?
Hansraj Sivach: The government has deceived the peasants and villagers by keeping us in the dark earlier. It slapped a notice under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act on August 14, 2010. This was followed by a notice under Section 6 of the Act. The government produced false affidavits of even deceased persons to push through the land acquisition.
M.E.L: Why does the government implement projects when there is such broad opposition?
Hansraj Sivach: The concept of development according to our governments, at the centre and in the states, is to implement projects that are in the interest of the Indian and foreign capitalists. They do not have the people’s livelihood and progress on their agenda. Both, capitalist profit and people’s interests cannot be fulfilled at the same time. The people cannot be denied their livelihood for the sake of the profits of a capitalist. That is why these projects provoke broad opposition. This is not democracy, it is fascism – that they deny people their livelihood though their plans.
M.E.L: Tell us about your struggle
Hansraj Sivach: Right after the notification by the government, the peasants of Gorakhpur demonstrated in front of the Fatehabad District Headquarters on 17th August 2010. Ever since then they are on dharna to oppose the project and to defend their land, which is a means of their livelihood. Till now three farmers have been martyred. Recently they have also approached the High Court of Punjab and Haryana to stop the project.