A shift in employment choices and a decline in the number of migrant workers in the city add up to a shortage of labour. The rising cost of construction puts a spanner in construction works in the city.

The real estate industry is facing the twin challenges of rising cost of construction materials and a shortage of labour, which is being increasingly felt with the city expanding.

Work on almost 50 per cent of the upcoming residential projects in and around Chennai have either been temporarily suspended or progressing at a slow pace due to the increase in the price of construction materials and labour shortage, says P.Manishankar, president, Federation of Tamil Nadu Flat and Housing Promoters Association.

While new projects are being announced by developers, especially along Rajiv Gandhi Salai, GST Road, Oragadam and Sriperumbudur, these problems have resulted in the delivery schedules being extended by at least three months and an increase in the project cost.

One cubic foot of sand now costs Rs.60 compared to Rs.22 four months ago; one brick is priced at Rs.7 as against Rs.3 and cement prices have gone up from Rs.185 per bag against to Rs.280.

Various reasons are attributed to the dearth of labourers at many construction sites. The trend of son following in the father's footsteps is changing as more and more masons and painters are keen on their children taking up better paying jobs.

The number of migrant labourers coming to the city, mainly from Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, is on the decline with many of them finding work in and around their native place. The NREG programme has also led to lesser number of workers coming to the city in search of jobs. All these factors have resulted in an increase in the construction cost going from Rs.150 per sq. ft. to Rs.300 per sq.ft. over the last six months, while labour charges range between Rs.300 and Rs.600 depending on the kind of work per day, adds Mr. Manishankar.

“The city needs 20 to 25 per cent additional labour to complete the existing projects,” says M.K. Sundaram, secretary of Construction Industry Development Council and managing director of Chozha Foundations.

Property consultants say a three to six month delay in a project is becoming common, but further delay happens when it does not have the required regulatory approval.

After booking a flat in June 2008 with Jain Housing's Naksatra project in Chinna Nolambur, it was this August that A.Prasanna, working for an IT firm, got the keys to his home. “When we booked, I was told the project would be complete by July 2009. As they could not meet the deadline they compensated us with a portion of the amount for about six months,” says Prasanna, who is one among the owners in the 512 apartment.

S. Samuel Satish, who booked an apartment in an ongoing project in Kelambakkam last month, has been assured that the apartment would be handed over to him by June 2011. “I am hoping that the builder completes the project on time otherwise my budget would be disturbed drastically,” he says. Sandeep Mehta, Managing Director, Jain Housing and Constructions, says the time taken by the authorities concerned to give the approvals for the projects is impacting the deadline. Mr. Sundaram agrees getting planning permission from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority sometimes extends to six months.

Referring to the Naksatra project, Mr. Mehta says there was a delay of six to eight months and as part of the agreement the customers were compensated.

More developers are going for mechanised construction materials such as hollow block units, concrete block units and readymix concrete. Tamil Nadu Academy of Construction, which is expected to be opened next month in Chengalpet, should come as a ray of hope. “In the first year nearly 15,000 unorganised workers would be given training but before that nearly 3,000 trainers need to be identified,” says Mr. Sundaram.

For aspiring home buyers, developers suggest not to book a project if the planning permission is still pending. “One can insist that the interest component on the home loan should be paid if there is a delay of three months in the project, provided that it is incorporated in the agreement,” he adds.

What They Say

T. Chitty Babu, President of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India, Tamil Nadu

"Migrant workers account for a majority of the labour force but the scenario is changing with many of them finding work in their states. Today, 20 to 25 per cent of the cost of construction is towards labour as compared to 10 to 15 per cent five to six years ago. To compensation for the shortage of skilled labour, many projects have gone for mechanised construction products and technological advancements, thus increasing the cost of the overall project. The increase in input cost has also resulted in delay in completion of certain big and small projects. “

R. Leelavathi, Secretary, Unorganised Workers’ Union

“The condition of women labourers is pathetic. Maternity care provided to pregnant women is negligible and deliveries take place in unclean areas. Lack of nutrition, inadequate access to medical care and unhygienic living conditions affect the maternal health to a large extent. Most of the times, the crime against these women go unreported, and since these families are always on the move, it becomes difficult to trace them. Migrant women labourers are paid Rs. 140-150 a day, while the men get around Rs. 200. Since these women start working from a very young age, they are completely exhausted when they reach 40 and suffer from various ailments.”

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