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Modi meets labor leaders, differences persist

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New Delhi: Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi met labor leaders on Sunday on the eve of the 46th Indian Labour Conference, differences persisted between central trade unions and the government over the contentious issues of contract labor and minimum wages.

The meeting over tea on Sunday followed extensive consultations that these leaders had with an inter-ministerial team headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley earlier in the day.

Union ministers Jaitley, Bandaru Dattatreya, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Jitendra Singh were present at the meeting, an official statement said.

The trade unions represented at the meeting included the All India United Trade Union Centre, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Hind Mazdoor Sangh, Indian National Trade Union Congress, Labour Progressive Federation, National Front of Indian Trade Unions, Self-Employed Women’s Association, Trade Union Coordination Centre, and United Trade Union Congress.

“The government is trying to change the labour laws without speaking to trade unions. We have made it very clear that this is not acceptable to us,” Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the AITUC and a former Lok Sabha member, said after the meeting.

“We have said that we totally opposed the government’s move on changing labour laws of the country. This will hurt the interest of the workers,” he said.

“Since there is no assurance, we will stick to our stand of a strike on September 2,” Dasgupta added.

“The good thing is that the finance minister is is heading the committee. We felt good when he briefed us in front of the prime minister,” said Brijesh Upadhyay, general secretary of the BMS, which is affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The government has shown some positive approach on the issues raised by us. We have hope. Something will be done,” he added.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Labour Minister Dattatreya said: “There is consensus on the issues of recognition of trade unions, Bonus Act and matters related to social security of workers. There is gap on issues related to contract labour and minimum wages. Discussions are in progress on these issues.”

However, D.L. Sachdev, secretary of the AITUC, contradicted the minister. “There is no consensus or agreement on any issue. We have not come here with any expectation of having consensus on any issue with this government,” he said.

“The issue of central trade unions’ call for a day-long strike on September 2 was not discussed so we have not responded on that. Our resolve to go ahead with the strike on September 2 has not changed,” he added.

The unions have been raising issues related to labour law amendments and a 10-point charter of demands that includes a minimum wage of Rs.15,000 per month across the country, up from Rs.5,000 to Rs.9,000 in different states and similar wages and services conditions for contract labour as for regular employees.

At a meeting earlier, trade unions unanimously decided to oppose certain proposed amendments to labour law like easing of retrenchment and unit closure norms.

“We have decided not to change our stand on certain labour law amendments which are not in the interest of workers,” Upadhyay said, adding at this meeting, it was also decided that unions would listen to government’s view on different issues during the two meetings.

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Know How Grammy Award Winner Inspired by PM Modi to Dedicate Music to Environment

From songs like "Ganga" - depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians - to his Grammy-winning album "Winds of Samara" - which speaks of peace and global harmony

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grammy award winner, modi
"What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment," Kej told IANS in an interview here. Wikimedia

A chance meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2015 in New Delhi inspired Bengaluru-based Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej to dedicate his life and music to the cause of environment.

Since then, Kej, who has represented India on global fora, performing at venues including the United Nations General Assembly in New York and UN Headquarters in Geneva, has been using music to flag ecological issues to policymakers and public the world over.

“What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment,” Kej told IANS in an interview here.

From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street.

With the aid of compelling visuals, Kej’s music, and collaborations with global music artists, highlights the deleterious consequences of urbanisation, climate change and human-animal conflict.

modi, grammy award winner
From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street. Wikimedia

“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented.

Kej, 37, bagged Grammy in 2015 for the ‘Best New Age Album’ for “Winds of Samsara”, created along with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. He is also recognised as the ‘United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist’ for his music with environmental consciousness.

The subjects of Kej’s music include, the rising air pollution in global cities and towns, the perils being posed to wildlife due to urbanisation and the story of Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean off Fiji, whose coasts are receding each year due to rising ocean levels due to global warming, among others.

With 15 studio albums released internationally, 3,500 commercials, three feature films in Kannada and over 100 music awards in 20 countries to his credit, the conservationist-musician’s album “Shanti Samsara” was released by Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the United Nations Conference of Parties (CoP-21) Climate Change Conference in Paris, held from November 30-December 12, 2015.

The album, conceived after his meeting with Modi, had Kej collaborate with about 500 musicians from 40 countries, for songs like “Ganga”, throwing light on the pollution plaguing the river, and on “Earth and Water”.

“Politicians and policymakers are used to statistics and numbers, but when one approaches them through art, it makes a lot of difference. I have seen politicians change their perspectives towards environmental causes after attending my concerts,” Kej asserted.

The element of environment and nature in his work comes from his own experiences. For instance, he composed the song “One With Earth” – which highlights natural farming and the need to give up chemical fertilisers – after he lived with the tribals in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley to understand their lifestyle and traditional farming techniques.

Grammy award winner, modi
“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented. Wikimedia

Born in 1981 in North Carolina in the US, Kej moved to Bengaluru with family when he was eight, with intense love for music and nature.

“As a child, I felt music and nature were connected and found music in the sounds of nature, birds and animals. I used to look at music as a way of understanding history, cultures and emotions from different parts of the world. A lot of my education was through music,” said Kej, who was part of a rock band “Angel Dust” during his class 12th from Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bengaluru.

Even as Kej pursued a dental science course on his father’s advice, he continued to create music and decided to pursue it full-time on completing the degree.

“Like most musicians, I started my career with popular music and later turned to heavy metal and jazz. I finally zeroed in on world music as it connects with the people the world over, irrespective of the language they speak,” Kej recalled.

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As a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the renowned Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus in this tech hub, the musician believes his job is to approach environmental subjects artistically.

“Numbers don’t hit people as hard as visuals and art can. My job as a musician is to drive the numbers and data through emotions,” Kej added. (IANS)