Rural jobs scheme creating labour shortage in Agra

July 21st, 2008 - 10:21 am ICT by IANS  

Agra, July 21 (IANS) The rural employment scheme is certainly picking up steam in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, if the labour shortage for construction and industrial work in Agra district is anything to go by. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which promises a job to one member of each family in rural areas, has affected the flow of migrant labour from the villages to urban areas, according to district officials.

“When the NREGS was launched as an all-India programme, many of us were sceptical about its success. The elaborate paper work and procedural complications discouraged village-level workers in the beginning,” says Subhash Kumar, an official at the Barauli Ahir block.

“But as the mist clears and people realise the benefits of the new act, there is going to be tremendous interest.”

Many labourers are not ready to move to the city from rural areas any more. “When you can get Rs.100 in your own village, why should one move out for work?” asks Rati Ram, a farm labour.

“If there’s work available locally what is the point in going to cities and risking one’s life?” asks Atar Singh of Malpura village.

The jobs scheme was extended to all districts of India this year.

Says B.B. Barik, an agricultural economist: “The experience with the NREGS in east Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which were major labour suppliers to industrial towns in Gujarat and Maharashtra and for agricultural operations in Punjab and Haryana, should open our eyes. “In a year or two you will see a major shortage of labour.”

Sumeet Vibhav, a leading builder in Agra, said: “There is a terrible labour shortage here, as a result of which construction costs are going up.”

When the jobs programme was started, development agencies of the state government faced a tough time finding people in the rural hinterland of Agra district to allot work under the NREGS.

Although over 30,000 job cards had been made by extension workers and development functionaries, those registered under the NREGA showed reluctance to report for work, says Surendra Singh, chief development officer of the district.

According to NGOs active in villages, caste considerations also came in the way as upper caste cardholders were hesitant to do manual work.

But now the situation seems to be changing fast. The demand for jobs under the NREGA has picked up to such an extent that in some places there are not enough farm hands left to work in the fields.

“It’s becoming difficult to find enough hands for sowing Kharif crop. The surplus manpower has now got attracted to the NREGS,” says a village head of Fatehabad.

It has been decided to continue NREGA operations even during the rainy season in all the 635 gram panchayats of the 15 blocks of Agra district.

In a number of villages, community ponds have filled up with rainfall. Unskilled labourers, both male and female, have to scoop out and transport 2.8 cubic metres of earth to get Rs.100.

“No payment can be made without monitoring and authentication by designated agencies. Photographs too have to be taken before and after work,” says an official of Bichpuri block.

“Many people thought they would just get registered and siphon off money with political connections and patronage as it used to happen in similar schemes earlier. But this has not been possible due to strict monitoring at every stage,” he adds.

Union Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh last month threatened to put all development functionaries into jail if they were found to be indulging in corrupt practices. In some districts, junior level officers have been suspended.

Those in the government say the scheme, if implemented sincerely, can help ecological regeneration of the country, as productive assets would be added.

In the first phase, for instance, community ponds have to be cleaned up to increase storage capacity during the rainy season. Later a tree plantation drive will be launched, for which pits will be dug.

“But just asset creation will not help; there should also be some mechanism for maintenance and protection later on,” suggests Roller Singh, a rural activist.

Roller says there should be flexibility in identifying projects, which should be in accordance with the needs of a particular village.

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