Rajasthan is concerned about revival of economy post-COVID-19 and has launched policies for investments, industrial sector, solar energy, says Additional Chief Secretary (Industries) Subodh Agarwal in a written interview.
After the enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown, The industries in Rajasthan have been struggling on multiple fronts to restart their operations. What steps is the Rajasthan government taking to help the industries for simplification of procedures for them? Should the industries expect a stimulus package from the government?
The government was quick enough to set up a 24-hour control room to address the issues faced by the industries. A new system of online passes was put in place and clear-cut advisories issued and widely publicised. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has since addressed a series of videoconferences with stakeholders.
The State government is very concerned about the revival of the economy post-COVID-19 with its limited resources. We had already launched very attractive policies, such as the industrial policy, Rajasthan Investment Promotion Scheme, solar energy policy. We are pursuing the proposed investments of international companies in the State. Rajasthan Industrial Development & Investment Corporation (RIICO) and Rajasthan Financial Corporation (RFC) have extended relief to the existing borrowers by deferring their due instalments by two months. The RFC has also decided to give priority to units which are engaged in the manufacturing of COVID-19 related items. The report of the task force on restarting the economy has been received and is under examination. But everything will be done after lifting of lockdown with the assessment of actual position of economy, losses incurred by different sectors and relief packages to be announced.
How many big industrial units , micro, small and medium enterprises and oil mills in the State have started functioning again? Does the location in the RIICO industrial area give the industries an advantage?
About 2.5 lakh MSME units have restarted their production and about 750 of the 1,800 oil mills are operating again. There are about 548 large and mega industries in the State, of which 387 are now operational. They include the plants such as Hero MotoCorp, Honda, Chambal Fertilisers, Ruchi Soya, Wonder Cement, Ultratech, etc. The Chief Minister is also trying to get some external aid as loan for the revival of MSMEs in the State.
Rajasthan is a leading State in mustard, soybean and groundnut oil manufacturing. Besides, there are a large number of cement units in the State, while Bhilwara is known as the textile city. How has the lockdown affected these sectors and what are the probabilities of these units coming up to achieve their earlier production levels?
Rajasthan is indeed a leading State in these sectors. Almost all the 30 cement plants in the State are now producing at 22% to 25% capacity. The industry is trying to understand the demand side in the wake of the situation created by the pandemic. We expect that all types of industries would start running at full capacity with the support of the State government.
The Labour Department in Rajasthan has extended working time in factories from 8 hours to 12 hours a day with the provision for payment of overtime payment at double the rate of regular wages for additional hours. Will it boost manufacturing and supply of essential goods and services? Should Rajasthan also join the league of States which have suspend labour laws for the next two to three years?
Rajasthan is among the pioneer States which have undertaken labour laws reforms. In 2014, the government had introduced amendments in labour laws for the “ease of doing business” and to create more employment opportunities in the industrial sector. Though the amendments made in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, employers were empowered to retrench up to 300 employees without the government’s permission. On the other side, an opportunity of hearing was also afforded to the workers, who could raise an objection within three years. Another major reform was related to the trade union, which can now be formed if it gets 30% of the total workers. Under the Factories Act, the threshold limit of employment for units operating without power was increased from 20 to 40 and from 10 to 20 for those operating with power. Likewise, The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, is now applicable only to the companies which employ more than 50 workers.
Recently, in order to achieve the dual objectives of restoring full supply of essential goods and ensuring the minimal presence of people in manufacturing and distribution facilities, a relaxation has been given in working time from 8 hours to 12 hours a day for the next three months. This is a reasonable initiative to address the labour shortage. The labourers used to work overtime earlier as well. Since it has been duly notified, it will benefit both the industries as well as the employees.
Do you intend to interact with the labour unions to evolve an atmosphere conducive to good industrial relations and ensure that the industrialists pay full wages to the labourers for the period of closure of units during the lockdown after March 24?
We have received both types of reactions on the issue. Some associations welcomed this decision, while others have criticised it by demanding the government’s help for payment of labour wages. The lockdown was enforced following a natural calamity which was beyond the control of employers and workers. The Industries Department has issued a series of advisories to instruct the Collectors, Superintendents of Police and Commissioners of Police to ask the industrialists to pay salaries to their workers for April. It was followed by an order issued by the Chairperson, State Executive Committee, under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which is legally binding on the employers.
According to a projection of the International Labour Organisation, about 40 crore people in India face the risk of falling deeper into poverty during the present crisis. How can you ensure that the resumption of industrial activities in Rajasthan will help the people earn their livelihood and come out of the vicious cycle of poverty?
The State government is actively working on this issue. The Industries Department and Labour Department are jointly creating a data bank of all workers who have migrated from other States to their native places in Rajasthan. A mapping will be done to provide them suitable employment as per their needs and the industries will be asked to absorb them. Besides, skill development programmes will be conducted for the workers so that they get employment as per their choice, skills and requirements of the related industries.
You also head a committee looking after the transportation of labourers and students during the lockdown. What steps are you taking for their smooth and hassle-free movement of labourers and students? How do you ensure that the migrant workers do not set off on foot to their home states and walk hundreds of kilometres on the highways under the scorching sun to reach their native places?
The transportation of labourers to and from Rajasthan is a very well managed system. An online system was developed for registering the information of the people who wanted to migrate from the State and those who wanted to come. As of now, we have about 22 lakh migrants registered in the portal. Of them, 10 lakh want to move to other States and 12 lakh want to come here. Rajasthan has been a forefront State in facilitating the movement of migrants. Around 2.91 lakh migrants have been provided the bus service for intra-State and inter-State movements. The government has also issued advisories for labour migration, making it clear that no one will be allowed to move on foot and immediate transport, food and shelter will be given to the migrants. As a result of effective management, the Central government has also appreciated the State’s arrangements.