Wednesday, February 8

Are MSMEs stemming the rot of unemployment?

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There’s been another fire as I write this. That too in the government’s Calcutta Medical College hospital, in a pharmacy. This latest fire does wake up the ghost of the 2011 fire in a privately-owned hospital in Dhakuria. Or should that be the ghosts of a good 92 of the helpless, innocent patients who died in it? That was manslaughter by any name and the ones responsible have got away. And the ones who suffered are yet to get justice. It’s bad enough getting killed in a hospital when you go there to get well, but to brush the whole incident under the carpet and carry on as usual is inhuman. Frankly, I hold everyone — the owners, the government, the judiciary — as culpable in this crime. As an aside, why don’t the real-estate magnates (one of whom also owns the Dhakuria hospital) selling us horridly expensive steel, glass and concrete bubbles that are taller, more green, and all the other bumf they peddle, ever tell us about the fire prevention measures taken by them to keep residents safe? We’re informed about earthquake resistance, environmental beauty, proximity to highways and metros, but never about fire. And I wonder if the sad buyers ever ask. Especially when they realise they’ve been sold another piece of overrated junk.

Nevertheless, not all the news is so depressing. It made my heart skip a beat to read the report that reappeared from January this year from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. I don’t know why it popped up again in my news feed, but the fact that Bengal leads out of the top 10 industrialised states in the country is news that should not be glossed over. The state has some 53 lakh MSME units as of 2016-17, 11.62% of the pan-India total, leaving even Maharashtra and Gujarat behind. MSMEs also offer huge scope to large-scale industries, according to the MSME Secretary, Rajiva Sinha.

This fact leads me to wonder why people say nothing is happening in Calcutta and Bengal. Obviously our people here are as industrious as anywhere else. Of course, political short-sightedness over the years has contributed to the decline in the state’s fortunes, but it’s pretty clear that we in Bengal know how to bounce back. In fact, a report from the Centre for Sustainable Employment of the Azim Premji University, ‘State of Working India 2018’, says that wages are not just low in India, 82% male and 92% female workers are grossly underpaid with employment opportunities below 1%. This is a trend showing itself since the 2000s and as the report states, “This suggests that a large majority of Indians are not being paid what may be termed a living wage, and it explains the intense hunger for government jobs”. It also states that this phenomenon is most evident in the northern states.

Are MSMEs in Bengal stemming the rot of unemployment in the state? I would like to think so. I recently had the occasion to meet a young man, Saikat Giri, a jewellery designer and manufacturer in Singur, across the river Hooghly. That same Singur near where the Tatas were to put up their Nano factory in 2008, that much-touted world’s cheapest car, a marque now defunct 10 years later after being produced instead in Gujarat. Saikat is also the head of the Singur jewellery manufacturers association. The members of this association do not sell a single one of their products in India. Whatever they make is exported. From what I gathered, the 700 or so members have judiciously invested in advanced technology and, directly and indirectly, give gainful employment to more than a lakh of people. This, in a place where agriculture is the mainstay of the population. This, in the place where the production of the cheapest car was the costliest to agriculture. Eventually, the Tatas could offer employment to only about a 1,000 people outside the proposed factory when 15,000 depended on the 900-plus acres of land for agriculture which the Tatas acquired.

That history suppressed has a similar tale to tell about Tatanagar-Jamshedpur is for another time and place. ‘Collateral damage’ and ‘expendables’ are the buzz words here. As they are everywhere big capital has the final say.

Two young scientists from Bengal working in the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Calcutta have won a prestigious award. An award for meaningful work done unlike the hollow sanctimonious award from the UN given to a certain person of our country who is least deserving of it. The two scientists’ work on addressing major global concerns for development of sustainable chemical processes to protect our resources and environment actually highlights the falsity of the UN award.

Perhaps Bengal will again show the way. Perhaps Calcutta will once again be not just the cultural capital of the country, but the intellectual one as well. The resource centre for how things can get better for mankind with hard work and intelligence.

The American country music duo, Brooks and Dunn, had a hit in 1993 with their song, Hard Working Man. Earlier in 1969, the great country musician Merle Haggard had a hit with his song, Working Man Blues. There are other songs which also sing of and celebrate hard working people, the kind who scrape by while keeping every nation ticking. The Brooks and Dunn excerpt goes like this: “I’m a hard workin’ man… I can’t get ahead no matter how hard I try/ I’m gettin’ really good at barely gettin’ by… I’m a hard, hard workin’ man/ I got it all on the line/ For a piece of the promised land/ I’m burnin’ my candle at both ends/ ’Bout the only way to keep the fire goin’/ Is to outrun the wind”.

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Source: Times of India

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