Karnataka Budget: People’s Demands For a Government That’s Struggling to Survive
Image for representational use only; Image Courtesy : NDTV
The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) (JD[S]) coalition government in Karnataka is all set to present its second budget tomorrow, February 8, 2019. Yesterday, on the first day of the budget session, the assembly witnessed the desperation of the opposition party as well as the power-hungry politicians of the coalition government. “The governor who was addressing the joint sitting of the state legislature stopped mid-way and left the assembly premises as the BJP continued with their protest,” read a report in India Today. The protesting MLAs claimed that Governor Vajubhai Vala was being made to “read lies”.
The BJP, ever since the dramatic formation of the coalition government has been waiting to topple the government by increasing their numbers from 104 (seats they won) to 112 by poaching 8 MLAs or by just making MLAs resign. On the other hand, the ‘petty’ politics within the coalition is quite visible. Ramesh Jarkiholi, Umesh Jadhav, B Nagendra, and Mahesh Kumatahalli have been causing tension within the government as they were not granted posts/portfolios that they desired. J N Ganesh, Anand Singh, Dr. D Sudhakar and BC Patil were absent at the first day of the budget session.
Will BJP let the budget session to go on peacefully? Will the Congress MLAs resign and lead to the dissolving of the government? These are the sensational questions that the media is behind. Since the question here is the budget for the coming fiscal year that would determine the possibility of the needs of the people in the state being fulfilled, it is important to understand the people’s demands. When the members in the government are not interested in anything but their positions and the opposition is bent upon toppling the government, what do the people in the state expect from this budget? Here is what the farmers, garment workers, street vendors and bus commuters in Bengaluru want to be addressed in this budget.
Agriculture: Done, Undone and To Be Done
The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) met the government ahead of the budget and submitted a list of 33 demands which they expect to be addressed in this budget. The list of demands also expressed the union’s dissatisfaction with the government’s way of dealing with farmers’ issues.
Reminding the government of its promise to waive off farm loans, the organisation demand that all loans taken for the agricultural equipment and tools should be waived off along with the loans on crops.
In its maiden budget, the government had announced a farm loan waiver scheme. However, the scheme was criticised by farmers as they argued that the JD(S) in its election manifesto, had stated that the government would waive off all agriculture loans in a single go. This would include crop loans, horticulture loans, and medium-term loans availed by the Karnataka farmers.
Instead, the scheme proposed to waive off loans in phases and not on a one-time basis. The CM had announced waivers amounting to Rs. 34,000 crore, while the total farm loans amount to around Rs. 1.20 lakh crore. The scheme stated that the government would reimburse Rs. 10,500 crore to banks for the loan waiver this year, and will be generating funds for the rest of the amount through an increase in taxes on fuel, electricity, motor vehicles and alcohol, as announced in the budget. In the second phase, an incentive of Rs. 25,000 per farmer would be distributed to the 27.67 lakh farmers who repaid their loans on time ‘to prevent complaints that only defaulters have benefited’.
Speaking with NewsClick, Veerasangaiah of KRRS noted that only around 60 per cent of the phase I loan waivers have materialised and the rest are still pending due to paper work and other formalities. The organisation thus, demanded the immediate fulfilment of the remaining work.
In its exhaustive list of demands, the organisation has also suggested the government to come up with long term policies that would help the agricultural labourers, workers, small scale farmers, animal husbandry and dairy. These long-term policies should aim at providing employment for the rural youth who are forced to migrate to the cities for employment. The organisation has also demanded to lift the GST on agricultural products.
Garment Sector Workers
Representatives of the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU), along with other unions met the Chief Minister on January 29, 2019, to present their demands. Jayaram of GATWU told NewsClick that they presented three main demands in front of the government and expect the government to include these in the budget allocation.
Housing for Garment workers: The Union is demanding that the workers should be made eligible to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) scheme of Government of India, under which the employees can withdraw PF to own a house. The garment workers are currently not eligible because the minimum wage that they earn is Rs. 8,000 and the minimum wage to be eligible to be a beneficiary of the EPF scheme is Rs. 12,000. Thus, the union has reiterated its long-term demand for an increase in the minimum wage.
Transportation: The workers from the rural areas in the garment factories spend 10-
15 per cent of their wage on transportation. The union is demanding that the state government should bear 45 per cent of the cost of the transportation. As the garment workers do not come under the Workers’ Compensation Act, if they meet with an accident or die while working, they cannot claim any compensation. Jayaram gave an example of Maddur and Srirangapatna. “While there are 7,000 garment workers in Maddur, there are about 1,000 workers in Srirangapatna. They all travel to the factories in public transport as well as private vans which are not very safe.”
The Union in this regard has demanded that the government should compensate the family of the worker with Rs. 5 lakh in case of death.
Scholarships for the children of the workers: The state government as of now pays
Rs 3,000 per annum (p.a.) for the children studying from 8th to 10th grade; Rs. 4,000 p.a. to Pre-University, Diploma and ITI students; Rs. 5,000 p.a. for Undergraduate students, Rs. 6,000 p.a. for Postgraduate students and Rs. 10,000 for engineering students. Rs. 20 p.a. is deducted from the worker’s accounts, the management pays Rs. 40 per worker and the government pays Rs. , which is utilised to pay these scholarships that are merit based. The students in the General category who score 50 or more percentage and the students in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC and ST) are eligible for these scholarships.
The union however has suggested that Rs.100 be deducted from the worker; Rs. 200 from the management; and Rs. 200 from the government, in order to increase the scholarships. The union demands the scholarships to be increased to Rs. 5,000 for the students in the 5th-8th grade; Rs. 10,000 for 8th-10th grade; Rs. 15,000 for Pre-University and Rs. 25,000 for the graduate and postgraduate students.
Bengaluru Street Vendors’ Organisation in a press release on February 5, 2019, noted, “The state government is set to present its budget on February 08, 2019. We street vendors play an important role in the city, offering valuable services to the people, however, we are ourselves reeling under poverty. To come out of this poverty, while we will continue to work hard, we need support from the state government.”
Street vending units constitute a significant share of the total enterprises in the urban informal sector. Despite this, street vendors face a lot of challenges and biases from local government representatives, and also in urban policies and regulations.
The street vendors are demanding group housing, basic facilities at markets like free toilets, drinking water, godowns, crèches etc., continuation and expansion of the Badavara Bandhu scheme which gives them an to access credit; more expenditure for public health and education to make it more accessible, and regulation of e commerce companies.
Bus Commuters in Bengaluru:
The Karnataka Government has proposed to hike both Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus ticket fares by 18 per cent owing to the soaring fuel prices. According to Vinay Srinivasa of Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (Bengaluru Bus Commuters’ Forum) [BBPV], around 50 lakh people use BMTC buses for their daily commute. Apart from the office going middle class, BMTC commuters include large sections of urban deprived communities such as domestic workers, security guards, construction labourers, street vendors, municipal workers and garment workers. Currently, Bengaluru has the highest bus fares in the country. As on September 12, 2018, the BMTC bus fares in the city were as high as Rs. 19/- upto 10 kms while for cities like Chennai and Calcutta it is only Rs. 8 and Rs. 9, respectively.
The BBPV in a press release on the February 6, 2019, has put forward the following demands:
All taxes that the BMTC pays to the government, such as motor vehicles tax, road tax, spare parts tax, diesel tax among others, must be reimbursed by the government. Additionally, sufficient funds must be allocated to ensure reduction in bus fares.
In 2013, there were 6587 buses and in 2018, there were 6632 buses. There has been less
than 1 per cent increase in the bus fleet between 2013 and 2019. For a population of 1 crore in Bangalore city, at least 12,000 buses must be running on the roads. And the State Government must support BMTC in procuring these buses.
While buying more buses will address this problem, on the other hand, providing
dedicated lanes for buses will solve the problem of buses arriving late. Projects such as the elevated corridors and steel flyovers must be withdrawn, and instead projects like Bus Rapid Transit System and Bus Priority Lanes must be taken up.
The BBPV noted, “The bus system needs to be made more efficient, expansive and affordable. We urge that the state government undertakes the vision to make the bus system better in the city. If the bus system is better funded, then it would address the problems of traffic congestion in the city, while also making it easy for the common people.”
How far the demands of these workers would be fulfilled will only be known once the budget is announced tomorrow.
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