Budget 2023: Labour Organisations Term it 'Pro-capitalist' and 'Anti-working Class'
The last full budget of Modi 2.0 was presented in the Parliament on Wednesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that "the dreams of farmers, labourers and poor will be fulfilled with this budget."
What is there for the labourers in this budget, and what is the opinion of labour organisations about this budget? To understand this, NewsClick contacted trade union leaders and organisations.
All the central trade unions expressed their disappointment about this budget and called it against the labourers and the poor.
However, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a union supporting the government and affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has described this budget as welfare-centric and in the interest of the economy.
However, in the same statement, it also expresses its disappointment over the pension system and the lack of increase in the honorarium of the scheme workers.
BUDGET 2023-24 IS INEFFECTIVE AND HOLLOW: AITUC
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) said, "Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has presented her last full budget with much fanfare as the 'Amrit Kaal Budget'. As usual, the Prime Minister's bombshell of words and epigrams filled a substantial part of his budget speech. In short, the budget rings hollow without addressing important issues like employment, health, education, value addition etc. These are nothing but handouts intended to woo voters; there is nothing to move towards people-centred economic growth and human development. The speech was laced with lies and gimmicks. The estimates presented as achievements are far from the truth."
Further, AITUC said the trade unions are demanding the old pension scheme, social security to all, pension to all, regularisation of scheduled workers, minimum wages for unorganised sector workers, including agricultural workers, etc.
"But this is a budget that leaves behind the interests of the nation, such as its 94% unorganised workforce that contributes 60% to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The union further said that the budget does not focus on long-term employment and creating quality jobs."
Regarding the exemption in income tax, AITUC said that the middle class is tempted by tax exemptions of up to Rs 7 lakhs.
"It is a small segment of the formal salaried workforce. This is again a measure to attract the vote bank. The budget did not give any relief to women and senior citizens. In addition, the growing gender wage disparity and declining female employment rates have not been addressed."
NOTHING BUT A POLITICAL GIMMICK: CITU
Reacting to the budget, General Secretary of the Center of India Trade Unions (CITU) Tapan Sen said that the Union Budget is nothing but a political gimmick.
"It does not speak a word about the country's dire economic condition. The Economic Survey has tried hiding the truth by presenting a rosy picture."
Regarding the government's claim that this budget is good for the country's economic system, CITU said that the Economic Survey had predicted a decline of 6.5% in GDP in 2022-23.
"Such a downward growth spiral for four consecutive years is unprecedented in the history of independent India. There is a decline in the manufacturing sector, which declined to 1.6% from 9.9% in the previous fiscal. The budget is not only oblivious to the loss of jobs and deteriorating working and living conditions of workers and common people but also the alarming unemployment and rising inflation, resulting in immense suffering for workers and common people. It also fails to address the risks mentioned in the Economic Survey, such as stagnation in export growth due to global slowdown, widening current account deficit, the continued depreciation of the rupee, high debt to GDP ratio, etc."
Sen further said that the recently released Oxfam report shows that India's bottom half pays six times more on indirect taxes than the top 10%. The budget further reduced the tax rate on the super-rich.
"On the other hand, it cut food subsidies by 29%, subsidy for decentralised procurement under NFSA (National Food Security Act) by 17%, the allocation for mid-day meals by 9.4% and nutrient-based subsidy by 38% compared to the revised estimates for the fiscal year (FY 2022). The gross subsidy on food has been reduced by 31%. This was done when India had the largest number of hungry and malnourished people worldwide."
CITU said the budget clearly shows that the Modi-led BJP government has not learned any lesson from the health disaster during the COVID pandemic, which exposed our country's pathetic state of public health infrastructure.
"Instead of increasing the budgetary allocation, the budget reduced the allocation for Ayushman Bharat by a whopping 34%; Allocation for NHM (National Health Mission) has been reduced by 1% from last year's estimate."
CITU also questioned the country's privatisation of public assets, saying that the government's much-hyped capex spending is funded by advance funds collected by gifting huge revenue-generating public assets through the National Monetisation Pipeline.
"This is nothing but eliminating the revenue collection capacity of the government for the next 30-35 years and handing it over to private companies, especially those close to the government. The PSU investment has been reduced by 11% in the budget."
The union says there is nothing in the budget for employment generation and support of MSMEs. The common people did not get any relief in GST (Goods and Services Tax) from the budget.
It further says that tens of millions of Anganwadi workers and helpers and mid-day meal workers who provide health, education, nutrition and childcare services to the country's poor, especially women and children, have been completely neglected without any improvement in their remuneration and benefits.
CITU, in its statement, termed it an anti-working class and referred to a reduction in related schemes.
"Allocations for MGNREGA have been providing relief to those looking for work in the rural areas. The budget has cut these allocations by 33% from last year's revised estimates. The allocation for the National Livelihood Mission has also been reduced in the budget. The allocation for the much-publicised Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana has been reduced by 65%. The most heinous attack was on the workers. While the actual expenditure on labour-related central sector schemes/projects in FY 2021 was Rs 23165 crore, this budget has reduced it by almost half to just Rs 12435 crore. The fund for pension has been cut by 4.2%."
The labour organisation said in its statement that this budget is proof of the anti-people, anti-national and corporate-friendly character of the Modi-led BJP government.
"This first budget of the so-called Amrit Kaal has proved poisonous for the people. In some ways, it was expected that the government could give some relief to the people due to the last budget before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Perhaps the BJP-RSS wants to rely more heavily on its communally divisive agenda. The working class and the general public must know all their tricks."
BMS called the budget welfare and economy friendly but expressed displeasure over pension and scheme workers, saying that the Budget 2023 presented by the Finance Minister aims to strengthen the economy.
It said that the government had accepted some of its major demands, for which it thanked the Finance Minister.
BMS has expressed happiness over the government's announcement regarding the use of machines for cleaning sewerage, income tax exemption, doubling of the savings limit of the elderly, special package for fish farmers and giving priority to skill development.
Although there is no new announcement for machine cleaning in the sewer, manual scavenging has been legally prohibited in the country, but the governments have failed to stop it; because of this, even today, in modern India, sanitation workers are forced to die. The Modi government has told the country's Parliament that from 2017-2022, at least 400 sanitation workers have lost their lives. On the one hand, the government has been beating the drum of cleanliness and development for the last several years. Still, the truth is that even today, the series of labourers who lost their lives while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the country is not stopping.
Although the government has once again announced this in the budget, will the government be able to implement this announcement on the ground or once again, will it remain a lofty claim?
BMS also welcomed the high priority accorded to defence, transport, railways, communication, MSME sector and jobs for youth, the Vishwakarma Kaushal Samman package, and the 15% rebate to cooperatives in new production.
BMS warned the government about the use of artificial intelligence in industries. In a mild tone, it asked the government to set some rules and regulations for artificial intelligence so that it can be decided where it can be used.
Moreover, BMS described this budget as disappointing for the EPS pensioners. The pensioners were expecting more from the budget, but the budget has not lived up to their expectations. The RSS union said they could have been included in the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
It said that despite working long hours across the country, the budget is disappointing even for scheme workers like Asha, and Anganwadi workers, who get a meagre monthly honorarium.
Trade union leaders have termed this budget pro-capitalist and anti-labour. At the same time, this budget has been said to be like putting cumin in the camel's mouth for the general public, just a web of figures.
CITU has called upon all its committees, associates and broad sections of the working class and toiling masses across the country to strongly oppose this budget and protest in workplaces and residential areas.
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