The Otherworld. The venue is the palace of Lord Yama Dharma Raja. Among those in the assembly were Prof. B.P. Adharkar, Sir William Beveridge, Robert Owen, Jerome Blanqui, Villerme, Daniel Legrand and others.
Lord: “Dear Mr. Beveridge ! I was hovering over the Heaven this morning ,watching the activities of the noble souls here. I was shocked to find you people sitting under a tree morosely. That was why I asked Chitragupta to bring you all here. How come you were sad? This is heaven; there is no reason for any soul here to feel worried. But, why is it that you were in a pensive mood, instead of enjoying the morning sun and the soft-blowing breeze?”
Beveridge: “My Lord ! Prof. Adharkar was sad about the activities of the bureaucrats and the politicians in power in India to amend the Sec. 44 of the ESI Act, 1948. He was the architect of the Act there. He knows the consequences of the amendment proposed by the bureaucrats now. He is, therefore, sad. When he explained the manner in which the Indian politicians go about it, I felt sad too. It so happened that Robert Owen and George Cadbury came that way. They were also shocked to hear about the amendment proposed by the Indian politicians. You might, perhaps, have seen us, then, when we were discussing about it”.
Lord: “Amendment to Sec. 44 of the ESI Act ! Did that make you so sad? I wonder why. May I know what it is, Mr. Adharkar?’
Adharkar: “Yes, My Lord ! Mr. Beveridge had prepared a monumental document to provide social security to the people. It was published by the British Government in October, 1942. His report had, almost, been copied with some regional variations in many civilised countries. Mr. Beveridge had diagnosed the ills afflicting humanity and attempted to provide remedy only to one aspect of it. The ESI Act in India was inspired by his report on Social Security. But, the present day politicians want to do away with it. They are working for the rich to enable them to make more and more money and do not care for the poor who cannot raise their voice and make it to be heard”.
Beveridge: “Yes, My Lord ! It is the duty of the government to protect the commoners from being exploited by the rich and mighty. The Social Security enactments conceived of by me, work in that direction. The concept of Social Security is to make the world a civilised one. Humanity suffers from five ‘Giant Evils’. They are (i) Disease, (ii) Idleness, (iii) Ignorance, (iv) Squalour and (v) Want. Among these five evils, the last one, the “Want”, can be tackled in a relatively easier manner by the governments of every nation through organised action. The ESI Act was enacted by the Government of India in the year 1948 only for that purpose. But, the present day rulers do not care about the niceties of the concept of Social Security. Their present proposal to amend the Sec. 44 will ruin the entire nation. That is why Adharkar is upset so much”.
Lord: “Why do you feel upset Mr. Adharkar? Should the world stand still, as it was in the Forties? Why not the present day politicians make changes to suit the present conditions of the world? After all, more than 71 years have passed after you had given your report on 15th August 1944”.
Adharkar: “No, My Lord ! I would be happy if the concept of social security had been expanded and more benefits given, as is being done in Germany, Norway or Sweden, both in quality and quantity. But, in India the situation is otherwise. When I presented the report I recommended bringing the workmen who were drawing wages upto Rs. 200 pm, excluding Overtime wages, within the purview of this security-net. When the Act was enacted in 1948, the limit was kept as Rs. 400 pm. That was more than the salary of the District Collector in those days. Even in the 1970s, after the III Pay Commission Report was implemented, the limit for coverage was Rs. 1000 pm. That was more than the salary of the Local Office Manager of the ESI Corporation, who was disbursing the cash benefits. His Basic Pay was Rs. 550 pm, after the implementation of the said pay commission report and his total salary was only about Rs. 650 pm when the report was implemented. The Local Office staff members used to prepare the Dockets of payment to these Insured Persons with more respect, as those insured persons were drawing more salary than their own Local Office Manager. But, now the coverage limit is Rs. 15000 pm which is less than the salary of the employee appointed in the lowest cadre in the ESI Corporation. This itself would show that the scheme had not expanded in the real sense, although the number of persons brought under coverage has increased. But, I feel more concerned about the manner in which the politicians of these days want the government to abdicate its responsibility so that the rich businessmen would enter the field and make a mess of the nation”.
Lord: “How come ? Would such privatisation really make a mess of the entire nation? What is the reason given by these politicians to go for such privatisation?”
Adharkar: “These politicians say that the present scheme has resulted in holding the workers as hostages, within the ESIC fold. They say, in public, that privatisation would give them option to seek better facility elsewhere. But, that is not true, My Lord ! It is these politicians who are primarily responsible for corruption of various shades in large scale in every public organisation, including the ESIC. They spoil the organisation and then cite the same state of affairs to blame the organisation and sabotage it. Except some exceptions, the politicians in power do not come forward to make the organisation corruption-free and provide better service to humanity”.
Lord: “In that case, if corruption in public organisations cannot be prevented, privatisation seems to be the better option”.
Adharkar: “No, My Lord ! These politicians who are not willing to run this single public organisation corruption-free, in spite of the existence of effective tools like Conduct Rules and CCA Rules to control and monitor the officers, are not going to make the private organisations, which might venture into this field, to act in a corruption-free manner”.
Lord: “Why do they want private role in social security, then?”
Adharkar: “Their real intention is not to protect the welfare of the workers but to provide more facility to the rich to make more and more money by opening up the field of social security also for them. The ESI Act came into existence after thorough study of the problems faced by the working population, for over a century. The Report of the Royal Commission of Labour of 1929-1931 necessitated it and the Report of Sir William Beveridge facilitated it. But, the present proposal to amend and dilute Sec. 44 did not emanate from any such public documents. There was no analysis of the experience of other nations, if any, in which such privatisation had been found to be a tremendous success. There was no public discussion on the issue, especially about the nitty-gritties of the nature of service that would be provided by the private players and the manner in which they would be monitored. The way in which the Obamacare was subjected to public discussion in the USA can be recalled in the context. No such discussion did ever take place before the bureaucrats of the PMO conspired to amend the Sec. 44 on the sly.
Lord: “Is it?”
Adharkar: “Yes, My Lord ! The aristocrats control the pliable bureaucracy in the PMO. The proposal to amend Sec. 44 originated from the bureaucrats of the Prime Minister’s Office who are habituated to bypass the Labour Minister’s Office and give directions directly to the Director General to do this and that. The very draft amendment as placed before the ESI Corporation on 07.04.2015. These bureaucrats who wield such unlawful power do not care about the welfare of the people. The very fact that the draft proposal placed on the table on 07.04.2015 received all-round condemnation (***) by the members of the apex body testify to the fact that it did not emanate from the people but from the top, as the brain child of those insensitive bureaucrats. And, those bureaucrats of the PMO believe that they are obliged only to please the rich. They believe that they are not accountable to the public. In regard to their political masters, they believe that the entire nation has been sold to them, once they get majority seats in the Parliament. It applies to all the political parties in India. The tradition of going to the people when they go for some major changes is absent in India. In essence, the Indian politicians do not know what Referendum means. They refuse to learn what UK did in the case of EEC. They just do not want the Indian democracy to mature.”
Lord: “Okay ! What, then, is your proposal to make the ESIC, a public organisation, corruption-free, if you want to retain the social security in public sector forever?”
Adharkar: “Corrupt bureaucrats are of four kinds, My Lord ! The first is Self-centred-Corrupt. The next is Organised-Corrupt. The third is Philanthropic-Corrupt. The fourth is High-fly Corrupt.
(Continued in Part II)
(***) Note: The Minutes of the meeting of the apex body of the ESIC is available at:
(Image: courtesy: internet)