Gandhi and Ambedkar, when strongly espousing their views on the political economy, would be dubbed left wing loonies today

p sainathP Sainath, well-known rural affairs expert, in conversation with Communalism Combat and Hillele TV

By Teesta Setalvad 

Rural affairs editor of the Hindu until July 31, 2014 and well acclaimed for his book, ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’, P Sainath speaks to activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad on the massive corporate subsidies to India Inc in each year’s budget even as India as a country becomes tight fisted about feeding, clothing and immunizing its poor. A skewed ethic among India’s ruling elite combined with the shrinking space within a media that is today representative of a combination of business interests that in turn dominates electoral politics forces strong, independent voices of dissent to seek an alternative. Where and how the alternate will emerge is the creative challenge before all of us, explains Sainath.

This Interview is available in over 14 individual parts and will be also available in a complete format soon. Facets from this conversation:

Corporate subsidies: The high corporate subsidies of Rs 571,000 crore exempted in the 2013-2014 budget are a steady and disturbing trend. It is included as annexure to the annual budget and rarely discussed in the media especially by hard rightwing economists who keep writing on ‘wasteful subsidies.’  These direct subsidies to a hugely pampered sector include direct corporate income tax that amounts to Rs 71,000 crores which is twice the amount that India is putting into the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) this year.

Even if one excludes the Rs 40,000 crore foregone on personal income tax, within the overall subsidy —  since that write-off benefits a wider group of people — the write-offs are shocking and include customs duty exemptions for gold and diamond jewellery that total a staggering Rs 46,000 crores! The amount we’ve written off for corporate big business since 2005-06 is well over Rs. 36.5 lakh crores. This Rs 36.5 lakh crores, Sainath explains, could fund MNREGS for around 105 years, at present levels. You could, in fact, run the MNREGS on that sum, across the working lives of two generations of such labourers. The current allocation for the rural employment guarantee scheme is around Rs 34,000 crore. As for the public distribution system [PDS], the amount could fund it for 31 years, says Sainath, adding, that, current allocation is Rs. 1,15,000 crores. The amount written off in 2013-14 shows an increase of 132 per cent compared to the same concessions in 2005-06. Corporate karza maafi is a growth industry, and an efficient one.

This interview is the second of the series of audio-visual interviews, launched on 6.9.2014 available for viewing on the internet on the joint You Tube video channel by Communalism Combat (www.sabrang.com)  and www.hillele.org.

Convergence between Parliament, Big Business and Media: The interview also explores the complete domination of Indian Parliament by “more than millionaires” [the 2014 Indian Parliament has 353 of the 545 Members of Parliament worth Rs 10 million; when the last Parliament – 2009—had only 145 MPs worth Rs 10 million] and in turn these very individuals (and their corporate business interests owning controlling shares in media). This enjoys a rare convergence, hitherto unparalleled that was witnessed in the brazen corporate campaign to spearhead Modi to power in 2014. (Sainath to Setalvad)

Working Journalists’ Act: Reminding us that the detailed work undertaken by India’s independent Press Commissions foresaw this danger and threat, P Sainath urges that the movement for implementation of secure jobs for journalists (Working Journalists law) that has been subverted by the Contract system be undertaken. Just as the gains of the organized labour movement (barely 7 per cent of the workforce is in the organized sector, 93 per cent work in sub-human conditions in the unorganized sector) are sought to be snatched away so another 7 per cent of our population becomes vulnerable and pliant, working journalists though driven by ideals are being forced into composed compliance by contractual employment that makes them completely vulnerable.

PARI [People’s Archive for Rural India]: Announcing the launch of this unique project that will bring us in print, audio and video form, the everyday stories of ordinary Indians, Sainath explains how he and his team hope to bring in all India’s 780 plus languages and dialects, bring the urban to the internet surfing Indian and show how the labours of the ordinary working Indian and his and her immense contribution is visibilised so we see our cities and growth as built on that immense everyday toil.

Watch and listen to P Sainath speak by clicking the following links:

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