Batting for bringing flexibility in UPA’s flagship NREGA, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh on Sunday said the scheme has failed to achieve the three objectives of wage employment, creating community assets and empowering gram panchayats at the same time in any state.
Stating that all jobs cannot be provided in areas where the youths want them, he called for encouraging migration across all states and noted with concern the “discrimination” in housing suffered by youths from Jammu and Kashmir who are employed outside the state.
He said there was a need to put in place a policy that removes discrimination against migrants and said some “trade offs” have to be made in the future programme.
“There are three objectives of NREGA. First to provide wage employment, second is to create durable community assets and third to empower gram panchayats. In states where NREGA has been successful, only two out of the three objectives have been fulfilled. In no states, all three objectives have been fulfilled,” the Rural Development Minister said.
He was speaking at an event to unveil the Indian Labour and Employment Report - 2014.
Giving examples of this, Mr. Ramesh said that while Andhra Pradesh, which is the pace setter for NREGA, has provided wage employment and durable assets, it has simply bypassed the locally elected gram panchayats.
In some north Indian states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Gram Panchayats have been empowered, wage employment has been created but community assets have not been visible, he said.
“At the end of six years, it is important for us to pause a little and ask ourselves how will we use NREGA now in the next phase? Can we use it to stimulate skill employment not of the urban nature as it is not possible? We need to introduce flexibility in the Act,” Mr. Ramesh said.
“So inherent in the design of this programme is an impossible dilemma. So some trade offs have to be made in the future programme,” he added.
Terming migration as “inherent in employment strategy” which creates a whole set of social and political issues, Mr. Ramesh said it has been very clear to him that his ministry can never provide jobs in the areas where youth want them.
“We are not going to be able to create all the jobs in that state and it has to be outside but then we run into a whole set of social barriers,” he added.
“We should encourage migration. We should not put any barriers to migration. We should utilise this opportunity to put in place a set of policy that removes discrimination against migrants,” Mr. Ramesh said.
Elaborating about his ministry’s programme of running special employment programme for unemployed youth in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Ramesh said that 60 per cent of the jobs that were being provided were outside J&K.
“One of the problems which we are facing is discrimination in housing market... landlords do not want to give houses to youths from J&K for a variety of reasons. This is a very serious structural issue,” he said.
Asked where would jobs come from, Mr. Ramesh said before he started special employment programmes, he was not very enthusiastic on retail but now has been convinced that the jobs are coming in retail.
He said that in J&K, the bulk of employment “which we are creating is in organised retail as well as for the tribal youths who are also going in that sector“.
“We should not close the door on organised manufacturing .... I was not somebody who was in favour of FDI in retail but when I see the amount of jobs that are being created, I think it will be foolish to close the doors on this,” Mr. Ramesh.
He was however critical of contract labour. Mr. Ramesh said that in his own office there was contract labour and the hassles associated with contract labour are less than that of formal labour and that is one of the reasons why government is now resorting to contract labour, which is unfair.
“Wages don’t get paid on time. I have to call up contractor to ensure that young ladies working in my office actually get paid. Sometimes they get paid once in three four months. We cannot turn the clock back on contract labour,” he said.
“...Indians always will find ways to bypass laws. I am sure the Industrial Disputes Act, people have done ‘jugad’ on it. All other forms of unionisation are deterrants to quick adjudgements. It’s not retrenchment which people are wanting...,” he added.
“We need to understand the historical reasons why the share of organised manufacturing is low. It is very difficult now to overcome the barriers of history,” he added.
He said that manufacturing is no longer labour intensive and the most such segments are seeing new technologies.