Unlocking the potential of rural unorganized sector

Lucknow, Dec 21 (ANI): When we talk of India's mammoth work force, be it in rural or urban scenarios, what comes to mind is the 'unorganised' sector. They form the multitudes that do not 'belong' to a sector governed by a slew of measures in accordance with labour laws or employment terms defined by policy measures. These are the multitudes, which fall outside the ambit of Central Government legislation pertaining to wages and salaries. They are covered by the laws of the state governments.

In an urban scenario the two sectors stand out distinctly. While a peon or a clerk or a security guard or say a teacher in the unorganized sector would have no benefits, no perks or job security, his or her counterpart would in the organized labour force would be cushioned. As we go down the social ladder, things would get tougher. For a vegetable seller or a shoe-polish boy or a hand-cart puller any disruption in the service would mean loss of a daily income, which threatens survival.

In the rural scenario, the landless forms the bulk of the 'unorganised' sector, eking out a living by working on other people's farms as agricultural labour. It is another matter that it is this 'landless' segment which finds its way into construction sites in urban or semi-urban centers, outside the purview of the 'rural'.

The 'rural unorganized poor' are the ones that invariably migrate. They are the ones that form bulk of the agricultural labour not only in their home states but prosperous regions like western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Given the fact that the system of contractual labour would be exploitative, not being governed by any Central laws or state-level measures, it nevertheless continues to be driven by the needs of both, the owners of land and those who labour on it.

It would naturally follow that any measure to augment rural livelihoods would come into conflict with this neatly balanced system. The flagship programme of the Central Government, Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act perhaps the first one of this scale and specific intent has infact been the 'spoiler' in this game.

If we really care to examine the content, the MNREGA is geared completely to the needs of the unorganized sector in the rural scenario. By ensuring that poor households find a minimum number of 100 days employment for one member for a fixed rate of Rs.100/- in effect means that migration of this work-force would stop or slow down. This has had a ripple effect in the areas where the rural work force would migrate to and has been the single-most effective mechanism to push up wages for agricultural labour in these lands.

The ripple effect is evident in other ways as well. Now the poor illiterate, unskilled rural labourer has more than one option open. While one person in the family can avail of the MNREGA provision and thus bring home a steady income, other able-bodied persons in the family can still migrate.

Given the enhanced wages in agriculture-rich areas for wooing the labour despite MNREGA's attractive package, would mean a substantial boost of overall income of the family unit. The scope of the flagship programme thus expands and goes beyond its intended targeted beneficiary. In effect it is addressing the issues of the unorganized rural sector. Sans laws, which govern urban industries or establishments, it is these socio-economic dynamics that set the tone for bettering the conditions of the agricultural labour force.

In many areas in UP, the results are tangible. Increased prosperity at an individual or family level has led to cemented nullahs, concretised roads, street lights, cemented wells, ponds, over-head water tank to supply drinking water; trappings of a semi-urban settlement.

Today TV antennas and Dish TV on the roof and a cycle and motor cycle parked in front of the house is not uncommon in villages. House construction has gone from mud as a basic material to bricks and concrete. This transformation is due in substantial measure to the expansion of the powers of the Gram Panchayat's to allocate resources, which has gradually come into its own over the last one decade. The right to plan and execute development works has contributed to the changed rural scene to a large extent.

Though there is an air of prosperity in some of these villages, yet it does seem fragile. After all it has arisen more from a set of 'market' forces in play in the rural scenario and not as a stated policy intent. It also does not absolve the system of laws, state policy or programmes from taking care of the needs of the agricultural labour force.

The most that can be said that in the absence of that, these trends, boosting off-farm incomes are welcome and if at all need to be strengthened. The setting up of small-scale industries on a big scale can certainly be a step in the direction, one that needs political will to sustain it and ensure it actually mops up the ones who have somehow been left out from these 'mega' livelihood options.

Ultimately it is unacceptable that a country like ours to shut our eyes to the enormous potential of the unorganized sector in rural India nor to overlook its genuine demands to strengthen and stabilize itself. It is simply unacceptable that the growth and living standards of rural and urban India should be so markedly divergent from each other. Growth needs to be equitable and modern developing nations need to make that an integral part of their planning process. . Today this crucial element is obviously lacking. Large segments of our population, the adivasis, and the nomadic communities, those living in remote rural pockets may have an identity and a mention in official records but remain excluded from the fruits of development, is the assessment of the Charkha Development Communication Network. Unless policy is able to provide them with opportunities for growth and include them, prosperity in pockets of urban India or within the organized sector alone will be meaningless. By Sunil Amar (ANI)

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