by Ranjit SabikhiJun 04, 2020
The large numbers of migrants returning from cities to their homes in villages presents a unique opportunity for a change in the approach to the development of our large rural hinterland. Over the last six weeks workers have returned to their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkand, Odisha, West Bengal and Rajasthan. They constitute skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour, of which large numbers had been employed on construction sites. Others have skills in the IT sector, e-commerce, banking, financial services and insurance, healthcare, electronics and electric repairs. A process of recording the nature and level of skills they possess on a district wise or village wise basis, along with a record of who has come from where, has been started. This record will be useful to help plan for the future, and make an assessment of how many of the workers are likely to return to cities.
As per the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan (PMGKRA), all migrants have been offered 125 days employment (now extended to five months) in 116 districts, across six states. The migrants are to be employed on works related to 25 categories of public infrastructure, which covers almost all aspects of rural development. They include development projects that have already been launched on a nationwide basis over the last three years, many of which are delayed, and behind schedule. Of the 25 items some are repetitive in nature, but all are included in a broad overall assessment as below-
- Community sanitation and cleanliness. Solid and liquid waste management.
- Rural connectivity, highway works, and railway works.
- Laying fiber optic cable, solar powered pumps for irrigation works.
- Horticulture and plantation.
- Water conservation, water harvesting, digging new wells. Making arrangements to provide access to piped water in each village home.
- Poultry and farm products. Creating farm ponds. Building cattle sheds, goat sheds, and poultry sheds. Arrangements for vermi-composting.fcrore
- Building Gram Panchayat bhawans, Anganwadi – child care centres, and KVK training centres for women to earn livelihood.
- Rural housing works.
- Exploitation of minerals through District Mineral Fund. Supply of natural gas to fertilizer plants and refineries. Supply of cooking gas to households.
This is an ambitious and impressive programme of proposed projects in rural areas, which if fully implemented will bring about major change. Projects are to be focused on villages as centres of growth, as per the SP Mukherji RURBAN mission.
It is hoped that most migrants will be effectively employed in one of the development proposals listed, and will become integral parts of the long-term rural improvement programme. However, there is no mention of any kind of planning for the 116 districts that form part of this programme, nor is there any mention of the involvement of qualified professionals to ensure that works are properly planned and implemented. Long term objectives have not been defined, and there is a lack of clarity relating to how the work will contribute to promoting villages as centres of growth, and the possibility of their continued commitment to future development.
The six states in which the 116 districts have been identified need to prepare regional plans, identifying the location of villages that may develop as mandi towns for the sale and exchange of agricultural products, and towns suitable for the location of medium and small-scale industries, developed in relation to local products and skills. Such plans need to clearly earmark areas for residents, with ample space for future growth and development, based on which a road and services infrastructure plan may be prepared. An important part of such decisions would relate to the systematic evaluation of the topography of the land, the natural drainage system, the location of existing settlements, and the connectivity to surroundings. Individual states should also prepare detailed development plans for each district, incorporating a selection of works listed in the PMGKRA programme, which are relevant to particular locations.
Providing migrants with five months paid work is certainly a help, but at the end of that period they are likely to again be faced with an uncertain future, unless as part of the process of development there is a plan to train migrants in skills related to the proposed development in each district. Such programmes would ensure the long-term commitment of migrants to the improvement and growth of their home environment. Planning for the implementation of such proposals calls for the active involvement of architects, town planners, urban designers, landscape architects and service consultants on a continuing basis to ensure that plans are periodically updated, with the active involvement of local bodies like the Gram Panchayats. In order to ensure that the amount of INR 50,000 crores committed under the PMGKRA is effectively utilised, proper professional planning and implementation is essential, and this is not something that can be done by local politicians and government bureaucrats.
As a large number of migrants constitute construction workers, it would be good to develop institutions in the identified districts to provide training to improve their craft skills. As part of the process of overall improvement of the building industry, it would be good if steps were also taken to enforce regulations to protect workers’ interests. This would include ensuring workers’ safety on the building sites, along with improved working conditions. All builders must be encouraged to use the latest technology available to improve efficiency, reduce construction time and cost, and improve the quality of building. As part of this process they must be required to finance the setting up and running of institutions to improve the skills of workers. Such institutions need to be developed in each of the identified districts, and across the country.
The construction of buildings today is a complex process requiring the co-ordination of many different elements. Structures are getting more and more complicated involving choices between steel, reinforced concrete, pre-stressed concrete and precast concrete. Complex waterproofing systems for basements, walls, roofs, and water tanks are now available. Services are no longer restricted to electrical cables and plumbing pipes. Proper planning has to be done for air conditioning systems, television networks, artificial intelligence and cyber technology. Plumbing is also becoming more complicated often calling for the layout of pressurised water supply systems, solar power networks, proper drainage and sewage systems, plus the layout of sewage treatment plants. In addition, a large variety of finishes are now available for the finishing of walls, floors and exterior surfaces. The markets across the country are flooded with a large number of sophisticated fixtures for bathrooms, readymade cupboards, and kitchens, and lighting fixtures. In order to efficiently handle these different elements special skills are necessary, which require proper training. Although this increasing complexity in building has been growing steadily over the last few decades, until now, workmen have had to depend on hands-on experience, as adequate training courses have not been available. This is a need that now needs to be fulfilled on a scale consistent with the expected increase in construction works all over the country.
As a large number of girls in rural areas have also attended schools it would be good to provide training for women in a variety of skills, which may include healthcare, cooking, tailoring, hair dressing, gardening and horticulture, office management, banking, financial services, e-commerce and artificial intelligence. Skill development institutes should include courses catering to this need.
In addition to those involved in the building industry, our metros are to a large extent dependent on migrant labour for a large variety of other services that constitute 15-20 per cent of the total work force. These include workers in households, cleaners, gardeners, guards, and all kinds of temporary workers. The long-term intention should be to reduce this dependence on such a large number of semi-skilled workers but this need cannot be totally eliminated, and a number of such workers will return to the cities. It is therefore necessary to plan for their homes and basic needs on an equitable basis. In the post COVID-19 scenario it will be essential to organise residential estates within cities for workers with substantial space without crowding. Arrangements must be made for adequate support facilities like schools, health centres, community halls, and open space. This calls for the equitable distribution of land for all sections of society.
In order to help migrants to be able to move freely across the country wherever they find suitable jobs, a system of one ration card, which allows holders to draw benefits from any fair price shop in the country, will go a long way in providing a sense of security. However, there is a growing chasm between the economic reality of migration and the political rhetoric of nativism, and the call for reservation of jobs for the local population. Unless the government takes a strong stand against any kind of state or political oriented pressures to ensure freedom of movement across states, it will ultimately have a serious negative effect on the overall economic development.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to the author. These do not reflect the opinions or views of STIR or its members. STIR is only a platform to facilitate these views.)