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Population Growth: CAN RESOURCES MEET CHALLENGES?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 26 June 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 26 June 2019

Population Growth


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Population growth continues to be a cause of concern globally with different predictions. On the one hand, the UN estimates that population is expected to peak to 11 billion by 2100 and only then will stabilise, and on the other many demographers are of the opinion that it will peak much earlier, may be by 2050 at about 9 billion and start shrinking after that. In such a scenario, the problem will accentuate in third world countries, including India.


In these countries the high density of population and increasing growth has come as a burden and resulted in failure to assure the lower segments of the population a dignified standard of living. Obviously, this is due to the fact that their resources are inadequate to match the necessities.


Let us refer here to famous scientist Robert Malthus prediction, way back in 1798 (in his book ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’) where he stated that population may grow exponentially while resources would grow arithmetically. As more people entered the workforce, wages would fall and goods would become scare. Then there are experts of the last century who had talked of a crisis situation emerging due to high levels of population growth and it cannot be denied that during the middle part of that century there were innumerable starvation deaths in many countries of Asia and Africa. 


A follower of Malthus, Paul Ehrich in his famous book ‘The Population Bomb’ in 1968 warned that “in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programme embarked upon now”. Ehrich was a big supporter of India’s family planning programme as he considered it would become impossible for this planet to feed the ever-increasing population. Though a section of economists, mostly from the Western world, feel that population growth has no relation to poverty, it is a fact that in the backward countries of Asia and Africa, where population growth and its density are high poverty, under nutrition and squalor has been on the rise.


At the same time, while it is acknowledged that human beings are the best and finest resource, the pressure of population growth on natural resource has been rising. An example could be countries such as India, which is primarily agro-based. Apart from the fact that productivity is quite low, land holdings have become smaller due to divisions with an increase in family members over passage of time, further aggravating the situation. This has resulted in migration from rural to urban areas, where infrastructure is poor and people have been forced to take shelter in unauthorised slums, squatter settlements, railway tracks etc. where living conditions are undoubtedly degraded and inhuman.


On the question of food, while innovative methods have been successful in improving yields of essential commodities and negating the Malthusian warning, there are certain concerns which need to be addressed. Though food production has increased and the conspicuous consumption of the rich is a reality, there are still starvation deaths, even in India as also deaths due to under-nutrition, both of adults and children. This is clear indication that availability of food in Third World countries like India is not quite sufficient. Can anyone say when the whole population of the developing economies will get a nutritious diet and whether this at all is achievable in the next two decades or so?


Regarding technological innovations in increasing food productivity, it has to be admitted that pollution has emerged as a big challenge, whether it is the case of water pollution, soil pollution etc. Degrading of land due to excessive use of chemicals and fertilizers is well known as also the over use of groundwater resources. While soil pollution is destroying large tracts of soil, arsenic, fluoride and iron contamination of water has become manifest, specially in various parts of India as water levels become lower.


The point that is sometimes missed is that water contamination has little or no effect on the upper and middle income sections; it mostly affects the poorer sections of society. Thus it would not be judicious to say that science and technology has worked wonders in feeding the population without the resultant effects, which are indeed quite disastrous for the economically weaker sections.


Adding to all this is the contamination of whatever we eat and the air we breathe. Scholars, who mostly come from the upper echelons of society, are not much exposed to problems suffered by the poor, specially those living in backward areas of the country or living by the side of railway tracks. They simply cannot imagine that the toxicity the common man on the street has been exposed to has resulted in a virtual jump of diseases like cancer, which were a rare occurrence some 40 years ago. There is little possibility of the disease burden on the poor receding in spite of best scientific interventions. Is not the high population growth responsible for it?


Another interesting finding is that most of the rich and the upper middle classes have small families, whereas the number of members in poor families is much higher. However, in recent times, with the spread of massive awareness campaign, birth control has been brought down though population growth still remains a problem. And this problem primarily affects the poorer sections of society due to lack of education and exposure to socio-economic problems. 


One may mention here the observation of Ted Nordhaus, co-founder of Breakthrough Institute, a California-based energy and environment think tank, who aptly pointed out: “For decades, each increment of economic growth in developed economies has brought lower resource and energy use than the last.” This trend of severing the tie between GDP and energy/materials throughput is called ‘decoupling’.”


Many economists make big claims for past decoupling and promise much more of it in the future. But a careful analysis of decoupling to date shows that most is attributable to accounting error. And to get the developing world up to the level of an average American’s energy usage would require nearly quadrupling global energy consumption, even assuming advances in efficiency, which, however, appears unrealistic. Thus, unless we find ways to make decoupling actually happen in the future more reliably and at higher rates, growing the global economy will require us to use more of the Earth’s depleted resources.


The Global Footprint Network calculated that humanity is currently exceeding Earth’s sustainable productivity by 60 per cent. We do this by drawing down resources that future generations and other species would otherwise use. As a result of our actions, Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans is actually declining. Environmentalists like Nordhaus are right that it’s not a fixed quantity; the problem is that we are reducing it rather than adding to it in a way that can be maintained.


Thus, it has been rightly identified that nine planetary boundaries that have been transgressed at our peril are: climate change, ocean acidification, biosphere integrity, biochemical flows, land-system change, freshwater use, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading and the introduction of novel entities into environments.


In sum, the population growth will put severe pressure on resources and the common people and though many would hope for some positive effect, these face the risk of being negated unless countries are successful in doing a balancing act.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Declining Parliament: NEW SPEAKER, NEW CHAPTER?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 25 June 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 25 June 2019

Declining Parliament


By Poonam I Kaushish


The 17th Lok Sabha scripted a “unanimous” new beginning on Wednesday last when a relative newcomer Sangh Parivar’s grassroot leader 57-year-old battle-hardened two-term Kota MP and three-term MLA Om Birla rode high on optimism into history books, as India’s Speaker.


A surprise pick for the post traditionally held by seniors and considered close to Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister-BJP President Shah the new Speaker known for his simplicity made plain that he was no pushover, meant business and would not hesitate to crack the whip. “I don’t think Parliament is the place for sloganeering, showing placards or coming to the Well. There is a road where they can go and demonstrate. Whatever people want to say, allegations they have, attack the Government they can but can’t come to the gallery and do all this,” he said. His tough message ran loud and clear: Put Lok Sabha back on the rails.


With Government-Opposition ties already rock bottom which marred the functioning of the previous two Lok Sabhas’ Birla has an arduous task ahead. Realizing this, he added: I am very clear Parliament is a temple of democracy….it functions by Parliamentary rules, all Parties should maintain decorum….the Government has to be more responsible and answerable since they have such a large majority.”


It is a moot point whether he will be able to restore the Lok Sabha’s long lost glory, notwithstanding his intensions. Sadly over the decades Parliament has got drowned in the cacophony of petty foggers, one-upmanship and conmanship. Will he be able to ensure Parliament functions through debate, discussion and consensus? Or will it be held hostage by pandemonium?


More so as the challenges confronting the nation have increased manifold. The country is today in the throes of economic stagnation, increasing social tensions. In addition, there are forces within and without eager to destabilise India and disrupt its unity and integrity. This calls for reasoned debate.


Yet, till date even a one-man Opposition army has prevented discussion by holding the House to ransom. Many members have made it a habit of rushing into the Well of the House. All spew sheer contempt. Bringing things to such a pass that pursuit of power, pelf and patronage is replacing law making. The figures tell all. Parliament spends less than 10% of time on legislative matters and the most on trivialities.


Moreover, we take great pride in calling ourselves the world’s largest democracy. Yet most of us forget that Parliamentary democracy provides for a civilized form of Government based on discussion, debate and consensus. Alas, ruthless politics has taken over and discussions and debates have largely lost their meaning. Numbers alone matter and have become the sole criteria of success.


In this milieu, the Speaker’s job has become all the more important and demanding. However, few appreciate his key role without whom, according to Erskine May, “the House has no Constitutional existence.”


Alas, over like the years Parties have used Constitutional posts as lollipops to reward or oblige Party workers, the Speakership is no exception. Think. Although the Lok Sabha Rules of Procedure are largely based on the Westminster model, the all-important issue of having an independent Speaker was overlooked.


Under the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy in Britain, an MP resigns from the Party on his election as Speaker. Moreover, the Speaker is re-elected unopposed to the House of Commons in subsequent elections. Sadly, few follow the premise that a Speaker is expected to be above Party politics, not a plaything of the Party.


As a former Lok Sabha Speaker confided, “We are elected on Party tickets with Party funds how can we claim independence? Moreover, even if we resign on becoming the Speaker, we would still have to go back to the same Party for sponsorship for the next election.”


Consequently, most Speakers have been Party members, especially after laying down Office or prior to it. From second Speaker Ayyangar who became Bihar Governor on expiry of his term to GS Dhillon and Manohar Joshi who switched roles from Ministers to Speakers, Balram Jhakar never concealed his identity as a Congressman, Rabi Ray lived up to his Janata Party’s expectation and Shivraj Patil who post Speakership, lost the re-election, but was nominated by Congress to the Rajya Sabha and anointed Home Minister. Sadly, today eyebrows are not even raised.


Undeniably, to conduct the House business smoothly stern discipline is paramount.  Discussions should be made more meaningful and focused through a strict time schedule. Today, time management has become a joke. Most Speakers are too indulgent, allowing Party leaders to speak endlessly, as though they are speaking at a political rally.


Hence crucial legislative business meriting in-depth debate is rushed through with only a cursory glance. There is no such thing as first, second and third readings of bills as during Parliament’s golden era under Nehru. Unlike the past, demands for grants of various Ministries and Departments, running into lakhs of crores rupees are guillotined without any discussion because time is wasted on non-issues.


Clearly, Speaker Birla has to walk a tight rope. Ensure the Opposition has its say even as the Government has its way. For starters he needs to take a leaf out of the West’s book to save time, whereby the microphone is switched off as soon as a MP finishes his allotted time. Winston Churchill once told his party MPs that MPs should endeavour to make only one point in their speeches. It is the privilege of Prime Ministers alone to make two points!    


True, there is no magic remedy. The process will be slow and long. Nevertheless, a meaningful beginning would be made if Speaker Birla puts an end to brazen rowdyism. The Chair needs to ensure that the House is not held to ransom through a ‘gang up’ of MPs determined to disrupt its smooth functioning.  Any member rushing into the House’s Well should automatically stand suspended for a week.


What next? Plainly it is time to rectify the flaws. Rules have to be drastically changed to put Parliament back on track and ensure no one can holds the House to ransom. We have to be clear: Are we for democracy as a civilized form of Government or have we degenerated into a “democracy” of devils and fixers? Remember, there can be no place in a 21st-century Parliament for people upholding19th-century prejudices.  


With 267 new MPs it remains to be seen if our jan sevaks adopt an attitude of cooperation or confrontation and adhere to rules. They must desist from reducing our temple of democracy in to a monument like Taj Mahal or Qutab Minar. We know what pigeons do to them.


As Prime Minister Modi gets down to bringing change in governance, he must recognize the Speaker’s key role and help him serve democracy impartially by adopting the British maxim: “Once Speaker always a Speaker”


In sum, Birla needs to heed Indira Gandhi’s words: “Parliament is a bulwark of democracy… It also has a heavy task of keeping an image that will gain it the faith and respect of the people. Because, if that is lost, then I don’t know what could happen later.”  That faith and respect needs to be restored and built by the new Speaker through a new chapter. Any takers? ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



Rail ‘Subsidy’:A MYTH, MUST BE TRASHED, Shivaji Sarkar, 24 June 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 24 June 2019

   Rail ‘Subsidy’


By Shivaji Sarkar


The Indian Railways is in a clever bureaucratic muddle. Neither is it in any kind of loss, nor is it giving any subsidy to the passengers. But a bogey and guilt complex is being created among the people to give up the “subsidy”.


Undoubtedly, there is no subsidy at any level whatsoever in the railways. But it has launched a well-planned propaganda on its tickets and other instruments cajoling the people to give up “subsidy”. A clear case is that of senior citizens, who are suffering heavy losses by reduction of interest rates, their savings are dwindling and mostly they don’t have any pension but whenever they book a ticket they are asked to press ‘forego’ button to buy tickets at higher fares.


The officials are certainly not giving the correct advice. In the entire concept of railways, no concession is given. To the senior citizens, terminally sick patients and some other categories “concession” given is neither a loss to the Railways nor does government end up paying for it. Instead there is a system of cross subsidisation. Freight pays for the supposed losses given for social welfare. The question which arises is whether we are now planning to give up the concept of social welfare?


In monetary terms is there any loss to the railways? Not really, though notionally it is. In 2016-17, the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget, which should not have been the case. Till then the Railways was paying an annual dividend to the government, which was budgeted as Rs 9730 crore that year for the previous year. It claimed “subsidy” of Rs 4300 crore for loss-making routes and thus the net dividend was to be Rs 5430 crore, but it was given up that year.


This means the “total loss” in 2015-16 was a mere Rs 4300 crore. But now the Railways says that “every passenger is provided blanket subsidy, which amounts to Rs 35,000 crore”. This does not include the concessions to senior citizens, students, sick or defence personnel. However, the Railways is not explaining how this figure was arrived at. On the basis of statement of accounts till 2015-16, it is a hyper, possibly hypothetical, figure.


Railway Board member (Traffic) Mohd Jamshed has stated that “only 57 per cent of the cost of travel on an average and 37 per cent in suburban services is recovered” and “it would be reflected on tickets to create awareness by the people to give up subsidy (that does not exist as per 2015-16 and 2016-17 rail budgets)”. He has not explained how he has arrived at this questionable figure. The possible reason could only be a move at introducing high unaffordable fares.

A look at Suresh Prabhu’s Railway budget of 2016-17 shows that in 2015-16, the Railways achieved a saving of Rs 8720 crore and operating ratio was 90 per cent. Ordinary working expenses were 11.6 per cent after meeting 7th Pay Commission commitments. He had also made provisions for Rs 48,100 crore, 8 per cent growth, for capital expenditure, which was all from railway coffers and there was no government investment. It is thus difficult to understand how during the next two years, the Railways has gone into an abysmal situation.


Presenting the 2019-20 Interim Budget on February 1, Piyush Goyal said that capital expenditure is pegged at Rs 64,587 core, a mere rise of Rs 15,687 crore over Prabhu’s figures. Clearly, these figures vindicate what his predecessor had presented. It means even now after the merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget, the Railways is paying for all of it, which only means that the Centre does not have to bear the cost of investment in railways. It certainly is not in losses as is being projected and as mentioned the subsidy is a mere myth.


So why are the people being implored to give it up and for whom? The Railways has launched a massive propaganda on this subsidy myth. It has not announced the cost of the propaganda being carried out through various media, tickets and advertisements. That too is at the Railways’ expense. True, but it forgets that it is paid by the people, who find that their every cost, including that of travel, is being hiked at one or other pretext.


This calls for transparency and a national debate. Recently, the CAG noted that about Rs 14,000 crore shown in the budget is incorrect. Same is the case with the figures of the Railways. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to look at these figures for credibility and truthfulness, which his government is apparently known for. The lapse at whatever level, if so, must be taken seriously and those responsible must be taken to task. It interferes with the process of governance.


The Railways has a system of cross-subsidy. It means that what it earns from one section is used to subsidise the lower class or suburban travelers. Often it is said that passenger earnings are not enough, so freight earnings are used to subsidise it. This is happening since 1950s. Even Prabhu’s budget and presently Piyush Goyal’s is based on this premise.


This again proves that except for the bureaucratic jargonism there is no loss, and if at all, it may be minimal. Their entire effort seems to be to show their “efficiency” in raising revenue for a government that needs more money to pay for various pensions and populist programmes. There is no loss on premium trains including that to Vaishno Devi or T-18 –Vande Mataram or the Rajdhanis. So if at all the officials are targeting the trains used by the poor, which are famous for running five to 12 hours behind schedule.


If on this premise Indian Railways raises fares, on an average ticket cost would increase by 75 per cent. It is too high for poor working people who in Delhi even avoid the metro ride for its high fares.


Politically such a move would be disastrous for a Prime Minister, who has instilled confidence in the people. They look towards him for lessening their increasing burden of prices of commodities, services and travel. India needs to promote travel through affordable, low, costs. It helps economy boom all over. Prime Minister Modi has to intervene to end the myth of rail subsidy and trash the “give it up” campaign.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Bihar’s Children: TRAGEDY UNMASKS CRUEL GOVT, By Insaf, 22 June 2019 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 22 June 2019

Bihar’s Children


By Insaf


Bihar government must hang its head in shame. The shocking tragedy of deaths of over 100 children from poor families in Muzaffarpur due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has exposed the criminal apathy Nitish government has for human lives and worse kids in the age group of 1-10 years. Distraught parents and relatives of the children being treated in the ill-equipped Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) rightly expressed their anger when Nitish and his deputy Sushil Modi finally chose to pay a visit on Tuesday last-- two weeks after the AES outbreak. Predictably, the administration tried to dodge the issue and not accept its miserable failure in containing the encephalitis epidemic that Muzaffarpur faces every year. Heat wave or Hypoglycemia, when blood sugar levels drop, were to blame is how it tried to wriggle out of its responsibility. This notwithstanding that Nitish has been quoted saying “Every year before the onset of monsoon, this disease (AES) wreaks havoc. It is a matter of concern that every year children die because of it.” The big question then is what steps have been taken to address this concern? Nothing, for the recent deaths show it has failed miserably to follow basic guidelines on AES – raise awareness, tackle malnutrition and upgrade its primary health centres. So when the tragedy hits national headlines, which it has,   the administration has the usual knee-jerk reaction-- of sending medical supplies and doctors. Not to forget the ex-gratia payment which is offered to families of the deceased children – this time a royal sum of Rs 4 lakh each. Can this dispel the fact that life is cheap in Bihar?   

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Gujarat Bypoll Row

Gujarat is gearing for another exciting byelection to the Rajya Sabha. With every single seat critical for its relevance, the Gujarat Congress has knocked on Supreme Court’s door challenging Election Commission’s related notification. With two of the six vacancies to be filled in Upper House from Gujarat, following Amit Shah and Smriti Irani moving to Lok Sabha, the Congress has questioned the poll notification. While EC says there will be a separate poll for each vacancy as per the RPA, the Congress demands it be held together. Why? If held together (as was done in 2017) it will win one seat and the BJP the other in accordance with proportional representation in the 182-member Assembly (BJP has 100 MLAs and Congress plus others 75). But if held separately, which the Commission says is ‘consistent practice’ both will go to the BJP. The Congress smells a rat and accuses the EC of ‘adopting new method of conducting elections under government pressure.’ The apex court has asked EC to respond and matter is listed next week. Who is playing mischief will soon be known.

*                        *                     *                   *                                *                              *


Water Crisis In TN

The water crisis in Tamil Nadu has caught the AIADMK government on the wrong foot. While Chief Minister K Palaniswami may claim the issue wasn’t as big as was being made out by the media, and rival DMK, the Madras High Court is not convinced. On Tuesday last, it pulled up the administration for not taking adequate steps to handle the crisis in capital Chennai, despite two failed monsoons. Hearing a PIL, the court impleaded suo moto Secretary, PWD to submit a detailed report on ‘number of reservoirs in the State, steps taken for de-silting, amount sanctioned and status of those works,’ notwithstanding the government reeling out actions taken so far to handle the crisis, including removal of encroachments on water bodies. It is putting up a brave front despite the fact that drinking water shortage has led to 100-odd hostels around Chennai stopping operations, IT firms asking employees to work from home and people rationing water! Undoubtedly, that confidence doesn’t hold water with the people or the experts!

*                         *                      *                 *             *                         *


Andhra Cross Over

Post-election season of moving on to greener pastures has engulfed Andhra Pradesh’s TDP now. On Thursday last, four of its members in the Rajya Sabha resigned and switched loyalties to the obvious choice— the BJP. The move has triggered a crisis alright for Chandrababu Naidu and worse the timing is unfortunate as the party chief is holidaying with his family in Europe. With four of the six MPs breaking away, it means the split would be recognised in Parliament given that it meets the legal requirement of anti-defection law, which mandates support of at least two-third members. So not only did they hand over their resignation to RS Chairman but passed a resolution to merge TDP’s legislature party with BJP! A hard hit for Naidu, but he’s putting up a brave front. ‘It’s nothing to be nervous about,’ is his message to party leaders/cadres as ‘a crisis is not new to the party.’ Forget the others, is he convinced? 

*                         *                      *                        *                                   *                                *


WB Misery Over

West Bengal can heave a sigh of relief. The junior doctors called off their week-long strike on Monday last following an unexpected fruitful meeting with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Didi did eventually relent and promised measures to ensure doctors’ safety:  such incidents (assault on doctors by patient’s family at NRS hospital, which triggered the strike) won’t happen in future; state-wide emergency number and email id to report an assault to be started; action against police if they fail to act with regard to their security; to deploy additional 125 police personnel inside NRS hospital to boost security and set up grievance redressal cell in government hospitals. She also told the doctors that five persons involved in NRS incident had been arrested. All’s well that ends well, may be a relief, but the nagging question is why did it take Mamata a whole week to sit on the negotiating table? She could have spared thousands, if not lakhs, of patients across the country of their misery. If only she remembered the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.  

*                         *                      *                        *                                    *                               *


Karnataka Cong Awakening

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity,” has finally takers in the Congress. At least in Karnataka. On Wednesday last, the AICC decided to dissolve its Karnataka PCC by retaining only its President and Working President, appointed last July. This should have been done before the Lok Sabha polls as suggested, but didn’t. The party, which was in power in the State from 2013-18 and is now a ruling coalition partner, won only a solitary seat this general election and is marred by nagging uncertainty of retaining its hold. Obviously, its jumbo PCC with 452 members, 21 Vice-Presidents, 65 General Secretaries and 170 Secretaries since at least two years did precious little and was inactive. The thrust on quantity rather than quality has done the damage like the adage too many cooks spoil the broth. The new avatar it is said will take shape in a month’s time. In the given circumstances of uncertainty looming large over the JD(S)-Congress government’s survival, hope it’s not too late. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Gender Pay Gap: ALTER UNIVERSAL MINDSET, By Dr. S Saraswathi, 21 June 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 21 June 2019

Gender Pay Gap


By Dr. S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Swiss women went on strike en masse a few days ago to highlight the country’s poor record on gender equality, particularly gender pay gap. It was organised jointly by women trade unions, women’s rights organisations, and feminist groups. Sad indeed, that half of the population of one of the richest countries in the world is forced to fight for its right to equality on the streets of Geneva.


Gender divide in the workplace and in domestic life is said to be a matter for continuing battle in Switzerland. No wonder if we recall that Switzerland granted voting rights to women in federal elections only in February 1971 through a referendum. Previous referendum in 1959 rejected this crucial component of gender equality.


Current protests of Swiss women, nearly 30 years after huge demonstrations of women to expose gender inequality in 1991, are evidence of social resilience to changes in gender positions. Hardly 10 years ago, gender equality was added in the Swiss Constitution. Gender Equality Act was passed in Switzerland in 1995, which prohibited sex discrimination and sexual harassment at workplace. Switzerland is one of the European countries having highest proportion of women in workforce.


According to agency reports, women in Switzerland still earn 20 per cent less than men. Even between equally qualified, there is about 8 per cent pay gap between men and women. The situation is similar in almost all EU States.


It is unrealistic to hope that Indian situation would be any better. According to Monster Salary Index (MSI) released recently, women in India earn 19 per cent less than men as against 20 per cent recorded a year ago. The gap was 27 per cent in 2016. IT/ITES services showed a sharp gap of 26 per cent and the manufacturing sector, 24 per cent in favour of men. Even in healthcare and caring services associated with women notionally and generally regarded as female jobs, men are paid 21 per cent more than women. Only exceptions are banking, insurance, and financial services, where the difference comes down to about 2 per cent. Even careers in science and academic courses are subject to wage discrimination between men and women. Share of women in workforce declines in higher academic posts in all countries.


Gender gap has a direct impact on what is considered “decent work and human development”. It is lessening on the whole all over the world but not significantly to make it perceptible.


An ILO Report of 2016 has estimated that the gap was about 23 per cent with women earning 77 per cent of what men earn on average. This is termed “raw gap” that does not take into account differences in qualifications, skill level, talents, etc.


India Wage Report shows that low pay and wage inequality remain serious challenges for work atmosphere and inclusive growth. Daily wage women employees are worst affected according to Global Wage Report of the ILO 2018-19.


Women workers in India are not generally active trade unionists. Union density, meaning percentage of women members in trade unions, has always been very low particularly in agricultural sector. Consequently, their bargaining power remains low. Trade unions are generally not very keen to take up exclusively women issues. Women workforce depends on   women activists, NGOs, and political parties to fight for their rights, promote their interests, and bring up issues of gender discriminations and look upon courts to enforce right to equality.


However, the informal sector is showing a more lively picture with workers’ cooperatives and self-help groups of women emerging to act also as big unions. They are interested in short-term and immediate action related to current issues in contrast to long-term ideological goals like empowerment, rights, equal development, and social security aimed by women’s groups abroad.


In our country, there is still the practice of occupational gender segregation in some sectors. It is also reflected in occupational choices individually made or socially imposed. It supports the system of gender wage gap.


Social security, which has monetary implications, is absent or lower for workers engaged in semi-skilled or low skilled jobs. The affected include bulk of women workers who are highly concentrated in less skilled occupations.


Two terms have come into use to describe sex discrimination in the workplace – “glass ceiling” and “sticky floor”. The first refers to a situation where gender pay gaps are wider at the top of the wage distribution, where a barrier is put on elevation of women after a certain level. The second, the “sticky floor” is the opposite situation, where the gap widens at the bottom of wage distribution. It refers to appointment of equally qualified men and women on the same pay scale, but women at the bottom and men somewhere above. The presence of “glass ceiling” and “sticky floor’ was confirmed in several workplaces in the US. It led to a series of legal initiatives to remedy the situation.


To tackle the problem of gender differences in pay, effective policies, firm action, and timely interventions are required. The 16th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting set a list of policy priorities, which included policies to confront gender gap along with extreme poverty and income inequality.


The concepts of insurance and social security for women are not common in India. They are now being introduced and it is seen that women are both keen and quick to learn, and more reliable in discharging their obligations in schemes. Women are found more prompt in repaying loans.


A main reason for gender gap in the workplace is the idea that women’s income is supplementary to men’s in the family except in women-headed households. Added to it is the notion that the entire domestic work is the sphere of women from which men are exempted by being men. It follows that if any domestic duty requires leave from external work, it is the woman who has to take charge and not men. This creates an image of women workers as supplementary to men and gives them a secondary place. Studies also show that women are willing to accept lesser pay in return for less rigorous working hours and some relaxations in working conditions.


It seems, therefore, that bridging gender pay gap is a social issue and not just a labour problem.    Gender gap is embedded in tradition and practice, pushing back educational qualifications, aptitude and capabilities, and democratic norms and human rights. It is not possible to change our cultural ideas overnight in pursuit of mechanical parity. That will also adversely affect women workforce. We have to introduce practices of sharing family responsibilities where it is lacking.


The fight is to be against unjustified sex discriminations in workplaces and domestic set up, notions of male and female jobs without any reason, and fixation of pay on gender basis for equal work.  


Our mindset regarding the status of women needs total change. Pay parity is possible only between equals – people equally available and equally fit for equal work. Society must agree to remove all obstacles in the way of women, imposed under patriarchal ideas and hidden under the garb of cultural values. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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