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Hartals hit Kerala small entrepreneurs, daily wagers hardest, says study

Our Bureau

Part of the explanation for the frequent and wide occurrence of hartals in the State should be lying in the cultural premises of Malayalees.

Thiruvananthapuram , March 21

THE impact of the frequent hartals being called by an assortment of political parties and other entities in Kerala is felt acutely by the small entrepreneurs and daily wage earners, according to a study.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Enterprise Culture and Entrepreneurship Development, has revealed that the structure of the State's economy and the Malayalees' quest for leisure are the real reasons for the high incidence of hartals in the State. Also, an analysis of the provocations for hartals in 2003 showed the growing criminalisation of the Kerala society.

The study observes that rich or reasonably well-off farmers, employees and pensioners in government and organised private or public sector undertakings, income earners located outside the State and traders of non-perishable goods are mostly indifferent to hartals as they do not result in material loss nor affect their livelihood. And these categories of income earners are numerically strong.

On the other hand, those who are really affected by the hartals and are concerned about it are persons dealing in perishable goods, caterers and restaurant owners, farm labourers, construction workers, and headload workers. In the case of these persons, the earnings lost cannot be made good in the subsequent working days. In the case of dealers of perishable goods, there is the additional risk of loss of material. Overall, though these groups of people are numerically weaker than the former categories, they are a significant minority, says the study.

It suggests that part of the explanation for the frequent and wide occurrence of hartals in the State should be lying in the cultural premises of the Malayalees. And though the hartals are forced on the people in a technical sense, in actual practice the sponsors of hartals are only translating the urge of an overwhelming majority of the people for leisure.

Besides, the fact that there is no organised resistance to hartals shows that by and large they have societal consent. It being so, the study says that it would be hypocritical to construe that the hartals are an indicator of high political consciousness.

In other words, the culture of leisure is part of Kerala's work culture and the government itself has accommodated the need for it. In 2003, there were only 283 working days as per the government calendar.

A government employee is eligible for 20 days of casual leave, 33 days of earned leave and ten days of commuted leave. When these days are deducted from the total number of working days, the average number of days an employee is supposed to work in a month is just 18.33 days, the study points out.

It has also found that hartals are more likely to occur in cash crop-dominated, remittance-driven and industrially backward districts and that dealers of perishable goods suffer material loss ranging from 9.5 per cent to 38.57 per cent. The extent of material loss depends on whether a hartal is announced sufficiently in advance or all of a sudden.

The long-term impact of hartals is on business morale and most of the entrepreneurs are feeling helpless about them, says the study.

It suggests that alternatives to hartals such as "black-outs" for short periods should be attempted to register protests.

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Hartals hit Kerala small entrepreneurs, daily wagers hardest, says study

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