Sunday, October 24, 2010

Self-help groups or helpless groups? - Sreelatha Menon

The Tru dairy project was started to help poor women, but it raises many questions

When Verghese Kurien pioneered the dairy cooperative movement, millions of poor women in Gujarat became owners of a billion dollar brand. A similar model of giving milk providers the ownership of the brand has emerged in Punjab under the label of Tru milk. However, it raises questions related to profit-sharing and unpaid labour.

In Ludhiana, Macro Venture Pvt Ltd, started by Jassi Khangura, a Congress MLA from the Qila Raipur constituency, does not procure milk the way Amul does. He keeps the 15,400 cattle bought by about 3,080 women at the milking parlour-cum-processing plants he has set up in 22 villages.

The role of the women is limited to taking bank loans to buy expensive international breed cows, five per woman, and feeding and milking them daily. So, the women provide the cows to Khangura, and provide food to the cows from their pockets. They are not free to walk out with the cows but must work in the dairy till their debts are paid off. In return, the women get Rs 2,500 a month, accordng to Khangura. For the milk, they get the cooperative rate of Rs 18 per litre, from which they buy fodder, pay bank loans, and so on. Khangura sells the milk at Rs 34 a litre after spending Rs 7 per litre on processing. It is like an all-costs-paid business for Khangura rather than a project that empowers the women.

Khangura has organised the women into self-help groups of five women each. These women have been provided bank loans through the SHG linkage programme to buy five cows each at the rate of Rs 45,000 per cow. The women leave the cows at the shed and the processing plant set up in their village over four to five acres leased by the company. Kangura has invested Rs 3.6 crore in each of these plants, a total of Rs 100 crore, using his personal wealth and some loans, about the same as what these women have invested in the cows and continue to invest in fodder and in the form of free labour.

The women work in four-hour shifts for six days a week, taking care of the 25 cows in their group.

But all they get for the milk and for their work is a mere Rs 2,500 a month (according to Khangura). This despite owning five cows and sale of 1,50,000 litres of milk daily. Khangura says each woman is also paid about Rs 2,000 per month for repaying the loan.

Dairy experts say this is a win-win situation for Khangura, who has hedged his risk by getting women to invest in the cows. Even if a cow yields only ten litres a day, and if the milk is sold at Rs 20 a litre, the women can earn about Rs 1,000 daily from the five cows. Rs 4,500 a month is nowhere close to that, it is pointed out.

Bhaskar Goswami, agriculture economist, said international breed HF cows yielded up to 45 litres a day and that would mean an income of about Rs 5,000 a day from five cows (at Rs 20 per litre).

According to Khangura, the yield of the 15,400 cows is 1,50,000 litres a day, or 10 litres per cow. Khangura says this model is the future. But it means free cattle and free workforce for the owners, with the cattle owners getting nothing. The women who work four hours daily for six days a week don’t even get paid for their labour.

Khangura says the women are not workers but owners. However, he adds that they cannot exit the scheme till the loans are repaid. He denies any exploitation here and says these women opted in because they saw an advantage in it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Consumer disputes


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Workers denied minimum wages at construction sites in Delhi are not complaining as they have few options - Sreelatha Menon

The migrant workers who were all over Delhi at the various work sites related to the Commonwealth Games are long gone. Those who linger at the incomplete projects are a reminder of the poor returns workers in the informal sector get for hard physical labour.

Madho, one of the 200 workers employed to build a ten-storeyed parking lot at Baba Kharag Singh Marg, is still there, a reminder of those who have been there before him for the last five or six years at different construction sites related to the event. The parking lot was planned along with other Games projects but has dragged on.

Madho, who came from a village in Azamgarh a month ago, earns Rs 100 a day, less than half the minimum wage of Rs 203 in Delhi. He says he is given food thrice a day by the contractor and an extra Rs 50 if he skips any meal.

On most days, he works for 12 hours, for which he gets Rs 100 over and above his wage. This is half the Rs 200 overtime he should get. Madho says he knows this. But he has few options. He has virtually been bought by the contractor.

The contractor has already paid money for a month-and-a-half to his family. He occasionally gets a hundred or two as a stipend for daily expenses. His transportation and food needs are also taken care of. Labour laws don’t apply here, for he is not on the rolls of the builder, in this case DLF. His employer is a contractor who is not answerable to anyone.

The 200 workers at the site, for instance, had some 20 different contractors. The Centre for Indian Trade Unions says most workers deployed for various projects related to the Commonwealth Games are bonded labourers.

The fact that these workers have been forced to work at half the minimum wage has been the subject of litigation, with an NGO, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, moving the Delhi High Court on the matter. PUDR says the employers and their contractors have gained Rs 360 crore a year by not paying an estimated 40,000 workers their minimum wages.

The Delhi High Court asked the employers, including Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and others to register the workers and ensure they got their rightful wages. Madho says his pictures have been taken for the purpose.

This may be an example of modern-day bonded labour. In the absence of any worker union taking these migrants under their fold, it may be dark ages for them. But forced labour may not be as bad as unpaid labour. Otherwise, why do these workers let themselves be bought by contractors despite the government of India providing 100 days work on demand under the National Rural employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in their respective villages?

And that too at Rs 100 a day? Workers like Madho can vouch for the fact that few NREGA workers have been able to get work on demand and fewer still are paid fully and on time. Contractors at least pay in advance even if it is less than what they deserve. Madho would, therefore, prefer to be bonded than unpaid labour any day.

business-standard - 17/10/2010

Caste bar on Puja festivity - ALAMGIR HOSSAIN

Gangadhari (Murshidabad)

Thirty families at a Murshidabad village who belong to a lower caste are not allowed to take part in Puja festivities.

The families, who live in Gangadhari village in Naoda, belong to the muchi (cobbler) caste.

The members of the 30 Das families said they were not allowed to offer anjali or enter the pandals at either of the two pujas held at their village.

“We feel very sad during the Puja. Since childhood, we have been brought up in this environment. We have now come to accept that Durga Puja, the biggest festival in Bengal, is not for us,” said Sujoy Das, 50, a resident of Daspara in Gangadhari.

Sujoy said the organisers of the two pujas, at Rudrapara and Dakshinpara, do not accept subscription from them.

“Every year, we approach the organisers with subscriptions between Rs 100 and Rs 200 for the 30 families but they always refuse to take the money. We are not allowed to take part in the festivities only because we belong to the muchi caste,” Sujoy said.

Most of the Dases trade in animal hides while some of them are farm labourers. The average daily income per family is between Rs 80 and Rs 100.

Amar Das, 52, said that during the rest of the year, the villagers spoke to the Dases and even had tea from the same stall. “But during the Puja, the same villagers ignore us. If we go near the pandals, we are virtually driven out,” Amar said.

The fear of being insulted keeps the Das folk away from the Puja festivities. “We don’t go near the pandals. We stand at least 100 metres from the pandals and offer prayers to the goddess,” Amar said.

Nilima Das, 30, who was a resident of Nadia’s Karimpur before marrying into a Das family in Gangadhari 12 years ago, said she felt she was being wronged.

“In Karimpur, I never felt that I belonged to a lower caste. Everyone was treated equally. However, after I came to Gangadhari, I was shocked at the attitude of the puja organisers. We realise that we are being wronged but what can we do? This is the tradition here. But my children are too young to understand this. They want to go to the pandals. How can we allow them?” Nilima said.

The puja organisers are apparently unfazed.

“I personally don’t believe in the caste system. But we have to follow tradition. We don’t allow them (the Dases) to come to the pandals and offer anjali. We also do not take any subscription from them. I alone cannot change the system,” said Swapan Mondal, the secretary of the puja committee at Dakshinpara.

Lakshman Rudra, the secretary of the puja committee at Rudrapara, said: “This is nothing new. We have been following this system for years. Why don’t the Dases organise their own Durga Puja?”

Subdivisional officer Soumendu Biswas said the deprivation was “unfortunate”.

“I have not received any complaint from the Das families. But now that I have come to know about it, I will speak to the organisers,” he said.

The Telegraph, 16/10/2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Interview of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala


So what would you tell retail investors watching you today? Just buy equities at current levels, wait for a correction, buy some equity and some gold, what was a good portfolio allocation according to you?

A: Have faith in India and invest in MIPs.
Q: MIP or SIP?
A: Systematic Investment Plan or Monthly Investment Plan. I think that is the best way.
Q: Mutual funds?
A: I think for a retail investor, don’t trade please.

Q: Why do you say don’t trade? Is there a risk of a correction in the near term?

A: Because I think 98% of retail people lose money in trade. Whether correction - no correction, bull phase – bear phase. Everyone has a sad story. The proof is in the statistics and we know people will say, you trade yourself but stop others from trading, I say dad used to drink whisky and asked us to refrain from it.

Q: What about HNIs? What would you tell them who are slightly more sophisticated?

A: Don’t trade.

Q: Don’t trade still?
A: Invest, have faith in India. It doesn’t change. It’s the same. Expect a reasonable return, invest for the long term, take expert advice, have faith in equities and India. That’s what I have done.

Q: But you have traded also and created a lot of wealth for yourself.
A: I have traded because it’s my 24 hour profession and I am doing it for the last 25 years. Trading goes against basic human nature. You have got to die 1000 deaths and 1000 egos in order to be a good trader. It’s not easy for every human.

For full interview...

For video

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