First, the celebrations of Holi, then the freebies (and booze, if we get candid) of elections and now weddings, an average rural Indian is having a binge this year, and it is showing on construction sites and shop-floors in SMEs.
While I don’t grudge the hardworking men who are building our nation having their bit of fun, it has thrown open a debate that we must have if India expects to grow at the pace it needs to in next decade.
Fortunately for us, we have a lot of things going for us. We have a large population of youth, a good size internal economy and administrative reforms that we are bound to have regardless of which government comes in power.
But, on the other hand, as we are carrying the albatross of democracy around our collective necks, we (thankfully) have little control over the people, and hence in issues like labour reforms, Indian state can’t use the stick but will need to work with a carrot.
If we look at our construction and manufacturing sectors, where we (are lucky to) have a lot of SMEs and MSMEs, we see one standard problem, and that is, a lot of labour comes from the rural areas and is hence migrant in nature.
Once a labourer goes back home, there is no certainty about the timing of his return, so most of the midsize Indian projects and MSME/SME have no real control over their delivery schedule.
So, if we want to shift a gear in growth, the challenge is to convert our happy-go-lucky freelancer coming from rural India into a responsible professional worker who is proud of his job.
(If, by any chance, you have are seeing a rosy picture of an idyllic life that an Indian labourer is enjoying in the village, and a reform as an enslavement into regimental urban lifestyle, let me point out that it actually translates into toiling under the hot sun, living in shanties amongst filth, watching porn and drinking hooch in the city for most of the year, and a few days, mostly spent in vagrant vagabonding in the village. So, it is mostly a life in hell that these poor people need to be extracted out of, by organising their lives.)
The main reason behind the irregular working schedule of manual labour is that they are socially straddled between a city and a village, but have nothing they can call home in the city. It is the social lure that makes these men go back to their hometowns whenever there is an excuse. But, most of them also see the city as a better place to live and given a choice, would like to move lock, stock and barrel to the city.
This is a phenomenon that is playing out across the globe and shifting humanity towards urban areas everywhere. It has its problems, but it is a process that is natural and hence there merit in moderating it for collective benefit.
The key to achieving a smooth social shift is to make people feel at home in the city, and that is possible only by ensuring that migrants move out of temporary shanties and into homes. So, the way we handle the housing for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) is crucial for making it work.
As it is a low hanging fruit, India needs a specific Ews Housing policy tailor-made for construction workers linked with large infrastructure projects as the first step in this direction.
If larger contracts are designed that disallow making of temporary labour colonies at site and instead encourage contractors to get land and build EWS homes for the workers, even on outskirts, and on the other hand transform construction work culture to shift-based industrial work against that lure, it may help in bringing much needed professionalism in the sector.
In a similar way, if MSME/SMEs with scale are also encouraged to offer housing to workers under a suitable Ews Housing Policy, they too can move out of a seasonal work schedule of migrant labour.
There is also a possibility of working out a mechanism for state-supported EWS housing that has specific tie-ups with state and national level industrial and construction forums to solve the financing and collateral security linked problems.
With a little bit of push and right policies, this will also help India move towards a home-for-all that we must achieve as a social objective.
It may look like a process that will speed up rural migration and hence cause social disruption and increase the density of our already chaotic cities, we must recognise that it is an inevitable process that will occur with us or without us.
As we need to create a professional working class that can come only from the hardy rural masses, it has its advantages that can outweigh the disadvantages if it is tweaked suitably. So, it is better for the state to engage in making it work in a socially appropriate way. Otherwise, it will just lead to a lot of illegal constructions and crooked builders fleecing the poorest of the poor guests of our cities.
It is a MayDay call from our labour, and the state must listen to it and act.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
via TOI Blog
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