note demonetisation

TimesNow’s Remonetise India campaign is as ill-conceived as demonetisation itself

The channel is asking viewers to give their domestic workers a day off to open bank accounts. Instead, it should urge them to pay fair wages.

The prime minister has told us that any suffering caused by demonetisation – the sudden withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8 – was suffering for the national good. He also said that economists – the vast majority of whom have said demonetisation would not do what the government expected it to do: eradicate black money – simply did not understand how demonetisation worked.

Now, TV channel TimesNow, in support of the prime minister’s cause, has taken this spin to a new level. Last month, the channel launched an initiative – Remonetise India – to help direct the gains of demonetisation.

Participants at the launch of this campaign in Delhi on January 5 included Union minister Piyush Goyal and the owner of PayTM Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Ten days later, the channel broadcast a two-hour long programme on the campaign whose participants included Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nirmala Sitharaman, Niti Aayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant and Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, among others.

Those participating in the campaign take a pledge to “rise and protect the world’s fastest growing economy. To stop doubting and start acting. To spend now to revive demand, and India’s markets. To help workers keep their jobs, farmers sell their produce. To teach and bring those around us into digitization. To help fellow citizens participate in our new economy. To use less cash…”

‘Help your help’

TimesNow has not reported on the impact of its campaign so far, but recently offered its audience the chance to contribute towards remonetising the nation themselves. According to the channel, all people need to do is to give their house help one day off. That’s right, one day off.

The channel is running an advertisement that has a little girl asking her mother why she has given their maid, Shanta didi, a day off. The mother explains that she wanted didi to open a bank account because “it is very important”. Shanta didi opens her bank account, returns to work, and declares “ab life ban gayi easy [Now life has become easy].” The advertisement ends with the slogan: “Help your help, so no Indian gets left behind when the nation moves ahead.”

All but the entirely deluded will be left asking: how?

Play

But this is not about Shanta didi and how having a bank account will impact her life. It’s about her smiling employer doing her bit for the nation by making the supreme sacrifice of functioning without her domestic worker for a day.

In an email sent out on Wednesday in which the launch of the second phase of the Remonetise India campaign was announced, a public relations executive for the channel laid out the thinking behind TimesNow’s Help your Help advertisement thus:

“Deriving from the insight that there’s a common understanding that the little things we do for our help, maids, drivers, watchmen etc. are enough to keep them happy & content. Just providing them with clothes, food or anything else gives us a feeling of pride, satisfaction and assurance of contributing to the society. However, what we fail to realize is that we need to make them self-reliant and include them into the progress path.”

If indeed people feel “pride, satisfaction and assurance of contributing to society” by “giving food and clothes or anything else to people who work for them”, then we may have an explanation for why India’s rich live so comfortably with the massive social and economic disparities that scar our nation.

It would mean that they, or at least the people who watch TimesNow, don’t have a problem with vast unbridgeable disparities because they believe the poor are “happy and content” with their occasional charity.

TimesNow’s campaign is totally in tune with the “common understanding” that drives this view. The child’s tone in the advertisement, which should make all right-thinking parents cringe, suggests that giving the domestic worker a day off is not the usual practice. Her mother’s explanation that she has given the worker a day off because “it is important” only re-emphasises this perception.

There is, of course, no mention of that dirty word “money”, as in money in the bank. There’s no awkward moment when the cute kid says: “Mom, how much money will Shanta didi get to put in her new bank account?”

Fair wages

Self-reliance, paths to progress and not getting left behind when the nation moves ahead do not depend on the existence of bank accounts. They depend on fair wages and decent working conditions. People who receive a fair wage usually find a way to open a bank account. They also usually have time off work to do so – one day a week and at least two weeks a year. This is the law of the land.

Domestic workers are among the most exploited and vulnerable workers in our country. However, no government, either central or state, knows how many people are employed full-time or part-time in people’s homes, what wages they receive or what conditions they work under. In response to questions in Parliament, the central government has quoted survey figures for domestic workers (see here and here) that vary by lakhs.

Domestic workers, a large number of whom are women and girls, are subject to the caprice of their employers and have little protection from any law since the homes in which they work are private and not subject to the kinds of inspections that shops and establishments face under the provisions of the Shops and Establishments Act. This Act regulates the wages, hours of work, leave and other work conditions of those employed in commercial establishments. Even in states where domestic work has been brought under the purview of some laws such as minimum wage legislation (Rajasthan) or manual work laws (Tamil Nadu) it is impossible to enforce the law, for just these reasons.

The Union government has failed to sign the International Labour Organisation convention on decent work for domestic workers because its India’s laws are not in conformity with its provisions. The government is, however, in the process of drafting a “National Policy on Domestic Workers”. The glacial progress on that front indicates that the issue is not a priority for the government.

If it was a priority, the government would have started a campaign to explain to the child and her mother in the “Help your Help” advertisement that Shanta didi was entitled to her days off and to a fair wage.

It could have got TimesNow to campaign on its behalf and have its audience pledge: “To rise and protect the world’s fastest growing economy by not exploiting those who work for us, and by paying them a fair wage. To help our employees earn enough to spend in order to help revive demand. To help our fellow citizens participate in our new fairer economy.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.