Factory Closures in Delhi and the Delhi Janwaadi Adhikar Manch

Factory Closures in Delhi and the Delhi Janwaadi Adhikar Manch

Newsletter March 2001

There has been an enormous exodus of the working class population in Delhi following the Supreme Court’s directive to the Delhi Govt. on September 12, 2000 to shut down all polluting industries in residential and non-conforming areas. While rumors were rife about free and extra coaches attached to trains heading for Bihar, there is no denial of the thousands gathered on platforms for trains leaving to Bihar and the same chaos at the Anand Vihar bus terminus for those heading for UP. There were hundreds who left for their villages in Rajasthan, Haryana and other states too. This has been only the beginning of a phase of closures that is going to affect 1.25 lakh small units and around an approximate figure of 25 lakh workers.

This Supreme Court order is part of the series of orders in 1996 that led to the closure of industries categorized as hazardous or noxious as per the Second Master Plan of Delhi (1990). The few workers who were able to engage in litigation and insist upon the court and management fulfilling their due were the larger units where the workforce was organized. Barring these few, none of the other workers belonging to the 168 industries that were closed in 1996 were paid any compensation despite the court ordering 6 years compensation unlike this time. There is no mention whatsoever of the plight of these lakhs of workers in this case in terms of compensation or employment in case of relocation.

The basis for the Supreme Court’s decision to close down these lakhs of factories is the ‘ White paper on Pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan’ (Ministry of Environment and Forests, GOI 1997). The problem is summed as being the ‘ rise in population and growth in economic activity’ that has resulted in an increase in pollution in Delhi. The Action Plan further ‘ envisages the deflection of 20 lakhs from Delhi’.

However, the problem of Delhi’s pollution can never be solved by throwing out such a vast workforce on whose labour this city is built and continues to thrive on. Besides, it is these workers who bear the brunt of pollution at their workplaces. Instead of improving their lives and working conditions, they are being made to pay a heavy price in the name of pollution by being driven to near destitution.

The hyperactive judiciary and the ineffective executive have never seen to the implementation of pollution control measures by the State and industrialists. All measures to cleanse the city can be legitimate but the question is that why should it be done only at the expense of the poor and the toiling class by pushing them to the brink of starvation. Why are the rich and those in power never held responsible for state of the city? It is not as if the government and the industrialists are incapable of setting up the required CETPS and the ETPs even in the case of small-scale industries. The motive transparently seems to be to get rid of workers.

These polluting industries have been running for years in the complete knowledge of the various ministries, pollution control boards, central and state governments and several other bodies. Water, land and electricity have been generously doled out to whoever was capable of getting it through hook or by crook. Where profiteering was the sole motive, all eyes remained either shut or actively connived. It is this capitalist system in its mindless race of profits that pollutes the air and water, degrades the environment and squeezes the life out of an entire working class to ultimately throw them out of a city built by their own labor. The state should know that where environment matters, so do people. It is the survival and dignity of this majority that can determine all else. We must also understand that the workers working in these industries and the poor of the city are the worst sufferers of these polluting units. Any plan to relocate these industries must include a no. of other simultaneous actions. Some groundwork has to be done before the relocation of these industries, e.g., the alternative sites must be developed and some infrastructural facilities be made available before any order for relocation of these units is implemented. The govt. must also ensure that after shifting, the industries must adhere to the norms required to make them non-polluting. In the absence of such measures the above orders would not bring in any qualitative change in the lives of the workers working in these units. In addition to these the govt. is also required to ensure that the workers, who in the process of relocation or closure of these units lose their employment are properly compensated or rehabilitated.

In the 1996 orders of the Supreme Court that affected around 50, 000 workers, the majority got neither compensation nor employment in the relocated industries despite the court ordering so. This time both the courts and the government maintain a stony silence on the plight and future of these lakhs of workers. It is pursuit of the policies of liberalization and the restructuring of the entire economy that is taking a heavy toll on the entire working class as we had anticipated in the early 90s.

Delhi has also been witnessing a spate of slum demolitions especially of land belonging to the DDA, NDMC, MCD and the Northern Railways. On February 16, 2000, the Court ordered the government to remove the slums and unauthorized colonies from all public land. This in effect would render homeless an entire 30 lakhs of people. There is no talk of rehabilitation and existing efforts of relocation in far-flung areas has only resulted in people being completely cut off from their places of work. This relentless assault on both the livelihood and housing of the urban poor in Delhi is an increasing phenomena in other cities too.

Saheli has been part of the Delhi Janwaadi Adhikar Manch that was formed at the end of 1996 at the time of the closure of 168 industries. In the present scenario, we have been involved in a survey being carried out of workers of these closed industries especially in the areas of Trinagar and Shahdara. On the 23rd of December we organized a meeting at our office that was attended by various other constituent organizations of the Manch and women’s organizations. The speaker, Gautam Navlakha, emphasized on the impact of pollution on workers and how in turn it is the workers who are victimized by being rendered jobless. Far from improving the lives and working conditions of these the workers, the Court has no mention of them in the court orders as if they no longer exist. The talk was followed by an interesting discussion that brought in many more interesting aspects of the issue. We have also been a part of the campaign and leaflet distribution of DJAM in protest against the closures and calling attention to the demands of the workers. A protest held by the Manch on the 16th of January at the Jantar Mantar drew the involvement of several groups too.

Saheli strongly condemns the undemocratic and anti-people moves of the entire government machinery and the judiciary in closing the large number of industries by ignoring the interests of the vast workforce employed in them. We feel the need for a broad based democratic mass movement to oppose such policies of the State. Far from being on the defensive to retain these exploitative jobs and inhuman living conditions of the slums, let us strive to strengthen the struggle toward a just and humane society where we all can live and work in dignity.