THE ‘BROKEN’ BANGLE INDUSTRY

INTRODUCTION

Envisage spending the entire day crouched in front of the burner. High temperature, inhaling flue residues from coal furnaces and unventilated working conditions. This is not a mere elucidation but rather the gruesome reality of bangle workers of Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh. Firozabad is the largest producer of glass bangles in the world.[1] While this ornament holds a significant value in the cultural dictum of our heritage, the production of the same is done by workers who toil around for pennies. Acute bronchitis, poverty, access to medical facilities and child labour are a few of the many issues this industry faces. A century-old industry that requires a revamp with the apparatus of contemporary labour laws.

BACKGROUND OF THE BANGLE INDUSTRY

Firozabad also known as Suhag Nagar, produces bangles, an ornament that is symbolic of the coverture of a woman. During ancient periods, invaders brought many glass articles to India. These glass articles when rejected were collected and melted in a locally made furnace called “Bhainsa Bhatti.”[2] Today the production of these glass bangles is done in the micro-small establishments, while the decorative aspect of this ornament is directed towards the woman in their respective households. The making of the bangles goes through two main processes glass blowing and manual finishing, the skill of these craftsmen. This is what transforms the molten glass into a beautiful structure. The exemplary skills of these craftsmen are unrecognised and under remunerated. According to the 32nd report of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, these bangle making families were paid two rupees per bundle for its completion, meaning an average size family normally completed 40 bundles in one day, which meant earnings of 80 rupees per day.[3] Therefore a large number of workers for lesser units of production creates a cost advantage for employers. Therein creating underemployment and poverty. Rampant child labour contributes to the high illiteracy rates. Poverty prevents these workers from availing of basic medical facilities though they are highly susceptible to various lung issues. A closer perspective also brings out the deeply rooted social inequality that persists, as most of these workers belong to the lower stratum of the caste system. This plethora of problems lack substantive legislation to regulate the activities under it, as the bangle industry is considered to be an unorganised sector. Moreover, even though they are prescribed benefits under various provisions they lack the implementation of the same in spirit.

PREDICAMENTS OF BANGLE WORKERS

Labour in the glass industry in the Indian province is characterised by the complete absence of organisation either permanent or ad hoc, and this is largely due to the de facto seasonal character of the industry.[4] The uncertainty of the job categorises them in the unorganised sector shinning these workers from the benefits provided to the workers of the organised sector under The ESI Act, 1948[5] and the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.[6] Moreover, since these workers are paid below the margin of minimum wage, the alternative of creating savings remains a logical fallacy. These issues were addressed by the Standing Committee on Labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment in the Welfare of Glass and Bangle Workers of Firozabad Report. This report highlighted certain issues faced by the workers of the bangle industry. The Committee opined that most of the bangle workers were out of the purview of the ESI Scheme which was evident from the fact that only 25,025 Insured Persons were covered under the Act whereas there were more than four lakh bangle workers in the region and since only BPL families were covered under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, other Bangle workers who although were above the poverty line, did not have access to health care facilities, the Committee, therefore, reiterated their recommendation that the ESI scheme should be extended to all glass and bangle workers in the unorganized sector also if required by amending the ESI Act so that these poor workers have access to healthcare.[7]But this recommendation was rejected on the grounds that the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008[8] was instituted for the protection of such workers and they could avail the benefits under this scheme. The Ministry also rejected the recommendation of the committee to raise minimum wages stating that the State government would be the appropriate government under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.[9] Therefore compelling workers to acclimatise themselves in an ill-disposed industry due to dire poverty.  Another aspect is the impact of covid on the MSME and small enterprises. The bangle and glass industry, in general, suffered the consequence of the lockdown with production depleting and factories getting shut down. The increase in unemployment has built on the persisting issue of underemployment. Demand for the good has drastically reduced and the price of raw materials has surged. Another conundrum of the industry is that these bangles used to be produced using coal furnaces since the emission of these furnaces were highly polluting.  Firozabad is under the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) which is the area that encompassed of factories that reprimand industries for emission of high pollutants to protect the Taj Mahal. Therefore, the eco-friendly option was, to switch to natural gas. But with the increase in GST on natural gas, obtaining economical friendly raw materials has become a double edge sword.

STRATEGIES TO DEVELOP THE BANGLE INDUSTRY

The bangle industry in India holds an important place not only from an economic point of view but even from a cultural and religious perspective. This bright-coloured accessory depicts the sentiments of a sacrament that is considered sacred. Therefore, it is essential to protect the craftsmen who mould them as well. Firstly, a broader plan to revive MSME sectors is a predicament. Secondly, economic upliftment of the bangle industry by using tourism and setting up exhibitions as these industries are in proximity to the Taj Mahal could be incorporated. But most importantly there needs to be a revision in the provisions of the law. Inclusion of the bangle industry in the organised sector would make them eligible for the benefits of fixed wages, fixed working hours and social security benefits. Inclusion in The ESI Act, 1948[10] and the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 [11] would pave these workers’ benefit that is long due. The other alternative would be amendments in the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008[12], by including more benefits like fixed pension, revision on minimum wages, healthy and safe working environments and primarily forming a review mechanism to ensure that these social benefits are availed by the employees falling within the ambit of these Acts.

CONCLUSION

A large section of labourers in India falls under the unorganised sector. The bangle industry workers are one of them. Though these colourful ornaments dangle in our hands, they burn those, who make them. Despite various legislations that govern factories to provide safe working conditions, medical facilities, maternity benefits or even education to children, these ideologies remain on paper. Lack of education and awareness among labourers hinder them from availing of benefits under social security schemes or other unemployment programs. Creation of awareness of the laws, vocational training for such labours to sharpen their skills, implementation of modern technologies is fundamental. It impediment that the state takes up the responsibility to protect these workers from exploitation and put in force the various labour legislations and provide empirical evidence of the same, in order to transform the lives of this unrecognised yet indispensable group.

Author(s) Name: Sumana Satyamurthy (KLE Society’s Law College)

References:

[1] Tushar Kanti and Deepak Singh, ‘A study of Firozabad Bangle Industry, (2016), 4 (10), (IJAPRR) 7 < http://www.ijaprr.com/download/1440312106.pdf > Accessed 21 Apr 2022.

[2] Subramanian, R. P, Towards Cleaner Technologies: a process story in the Firozabad glass industry cluster.      (5th Edition, The Energy and Resources Institute Press 2008) 19.

[3] Standing Committee on Labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Welfare of Glass and Bangle Workers of Firozabad – A Case Study, (Labour Com. 32 2012) 4 <https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/64360/1/15_Labour_32.pdf>

[4] B.P Adarkar, Report on labour conditions in glass industry (1st Edition, Manager of Publications 1945) 59

[5] The Employee State Insurance Act, 1948, s. 4

[6] Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, s. 2(f)

[7] Standing Committee On Labour, Ministry Of Labour And Employment, (Action taken by the Government on the Recommendations/Observations contained in the Thirty-Second Report of the Standing Committee on Labour on the `Welfare of glass and bangle workers of Firozabad – A case study’), ( Labour Com. 45 2014) 9 < https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/64375/1/15_Labour_45.pdf >

[8] Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, s.10

[9] Minimum Wages Act, 1948, s. 3

[10] The Employee State Insurance Act, 1948, s. 4

[11] Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, s. 2(f)

[12] Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008