During the recent visit to Sabarmati Ashram (March 12, 2016), picked up a few copies of M K Gandhi’s India of My Dreams. All said and done, he is a marvellous writer and a great observer. Given my proclivity towards uplifting long haul drivers’ living and working conditions, automatically my search for his views on labour landed me quickly on page 40. Listen to what he wrote way back in February 11, 1920 – almost a century ago:
1. The hours of labour must leave the workmen some hours of leisure.
2. They must get facilities for their own education.
3. Provision should be made for an adequate supply of milk, clothing and necessary education for their children.
4. They should be sanitary dwellings for the workmen;
5. They should be a position to save enough to maintain themselvdes during their old age.
None of these conditions is satisfied today. For this both the parties are responsible. The masters care obly for the service they get. What becomes of the labourer does not concern them. All their endeavours are generally confined to obtaining maximum service with minimum payment. The labourer on the other hand tries to hit upon all tricks whereby he can get maximum pay wiht minimum work. The esult is that although the labourers get an increment there is no improvement in the work turned out. The relations between the two parties are not purified and the labourers do not make proper use of the increment they get.
Labour stands in sore need of friends. It cannot proceed without a lead. What sort of men give this lead will decide the condition of labour.
Remember this is what he wrote in 1920. One can say that things have not changed even now. I can talk with certainty in the trucking segment. Am not talking in air, but out of sheer personal experience of having traveled in trucks – as clean/kalasi – between 2010 an 2012 in multiple trips across India and having met more than 10,000 long haul drivers one on one. So, nothing is bookish but pure experience.
Indian industry has embraced outsourcing as its major credo under the fancy focus of core competence. Irrespective of what one makes/manufactures they have contracted out most of work that they had been performing for decades. Thus, transportation and logistics is not their “core competence” area. Through tenders, this task is parcelled out to the lowest quote offer. Does the winner get his full operational cost covered besides some decent margin is doubtful. Then, this contractor outsources the job to his “associates” who are part of the contractors’ suppliers. Obviously he gets less than what contractor has got from tenderer. This means his profit margin is negligible or does not exist. In such a scenario, fleet owner/associate offers much lower than what he got to protect his margins/interests. No economics. No logic. Everyone trying to squeeze everyone else.
Net result: the last supply chain link viz., drivers’s interest are compromised. That’s one part of the story.
In the absence of a decent compensation with no social security benefits (no PF, no medical benefits etc), drivers are left to fend for themselves.
No amenities. Forget about wayside amenities. There are no amenities for this drivers (labourers in a way) even outside factory gates or distribution hubs where loading/unloading takes place. No toilets, thus forcing them to defecate in open space. Swatch Bharat? What’s that? Its just lip service.
En route on highways, there are no facilities to rest. Drivers sleep inside their trucks. or under. It is a common sight on highways.
Gandhiji is talking about time leisure! A big joke. No place to sleep even. So, what leisure activities?
Unhygienic food at unhygienic highway dhabas. Milk?
Again Gandhiji talks about personal finance … saving for old age.
Very little has been done to educate the millions of uneducated/less literate drivers.
They can’t even read what documents they carry. That’s the status. Personal finance?
In a nutshell, they have no Godfathers. Put it differently they are orphans.
In 1920, there was the Father of Nation espousing their cause. Today, none. Sad indeed.
Driving is looking down upon in our society. Dignity of labour is something alien.
No wonder, none wants to take up truck driving as a profession.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Govt of INdia, has gone on record saying that the driver shortage is 22 per cent. That is to say, out of every five trucks on Indians, five vehicles have no drivers to steer them help building the Indian economy.
As I stepped out of Sabarmati Ashram, the relevance or irrelevance of Gandhian approach to labour and problem solving acumen hit me hard.
Everything has changed. Still somethings have not.
True, time is the healer.
Let us be optimistic. Let us hope what Gandhiji wrote in 1920 become irrelevant as far as this issue is concerned by Circa 2020 AD.