Another challenge before Indian economy
Satyajit Kumar Sharmah Thakur
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
One of the salient features of the Indian economy is migration of workers, their vast experience enhancing skill over a period of several years with some of them having experience of more than 25/30 years, which is undoubtedly a great asset for the employers. A large number of them surely do not have much professional education even though their skill is unparalleled. Prior to their returning to their native places consequent on declaration of lockdown due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in India, while the manufacturing activities were not disturbed, with continuation of production, at least certainty of their wages was there, whereas social security measures that they enjoyed in addition, were another area of their comfort. For other earners including the daily earners in non-manufacturing activities also, even though a number of them might not have had social security benefits attached to their earning opportunities, there were comfortable turfs for their earning at least to make both ends meet comfortably.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has brought to them a gloomy picture. To me, the decision of the countrywide lockdown should have given some scope for them to take decisions regarding livelihood more conveniently. Because, like working capital necessity, availability of raw materials, need for rationalization and favourable tax regime etc., no way less important is the availability of efficient manpower within which those migrant workers are also included. I, with experience of more than 15 years in the human resource management in both manufacturing and non-banking financial sector, can weigh in very proactively the indispensability of the presence of efficient manpower in an industrial unit and to be more specific, their such increase in efficiency is a continuous process getting them updated thoroughly with new demanding challenges thus contributing to the country's economic progress through enhancement of industrial development. The human efficiency of an industrial unit very significantly determines the path of its progress. Even though a person may be qualified, yet in the practical world he/she needs exposure to acquire experience and that acquired experience is the cornerstone of his/her skill- a very invaluable asset for the employee as well as the employer. With the advent of the most probable new challenges to the country's economy in the beginning of the post COVID-19 period, so that difficulties should be as less as possible, I foresaw two major problems out of replacement of the workers from the places of their works – one being their loss of earning opportunity substantially with some of them might even be adding to the tally of the statistics of unemployment and another being deprivation of the employers of experienced and hence efficient workers and in view of that with all possible support for persuading the migrant workers to stay back at the places of their works looking forward to the least inconvenience out of the human element in an early rebooting of the industries, I went out to praise the efforts of the hon'ble Chief Minister of Karnataka for his effort for retaining the migrant workers, which of course he had to amend later. Hence along with rise in unemployment, at the same time, out of that migrant workers' exodus, I foresee substantial addition to the problem of underemployment also.
The greatest value of the migrant workers is that by virtue of their efficiency not only the desired levels of production and productivity are ensured, but because of their efficiency skillful operation of an industrial unit can also be achieved. True, all of them were not employed in industries- may that be manufacturing industry or service industry. But even apart from that, anywhere they must have been deployed, one mentionable dimension must have been their skill by virtue of their experience having bearing on cost effectiveness. We should not forget that to enjoy the real progress of the economy, not only that qualitative production and productivity must be ensured but cost effectiveness leading to reasonable output cost is absolutely sine qua non to thrive in this era of acutely competitive economy especially when our efforts should be towards self-reliance. Even though in case of every industry that holds good but in case of a process industry any compromise on efficiency in any of the phases, in all likelihood, will become very costly affecting not only in production and productivity and thus cost of production, but the wages of the efficient workers of the other phases of the production process are also very adversely impacted- which every management must be very much conscious of.
Another point, perhaps the respective state governments have not considered duly is the scopes of income for those migrant workers who have returned to their native places. As already decided in Maharashtra, the vacant positions consequent on leaving the places of works by the migrant workers, will be replaced by the deserving native people of the state, whether the states which have taken back the migrant workers being native to them, will be able to provide meaningful income opportunities to them is really doubtful because frankly speaking, considering the daily rates and the number of days for which such a converted MGNEGRA worker will get work per month, his maximum probable income per month can be arrived at more so when, for increasing the number of days of works and rate per day of work, demands are very frequently heard from the already available MGNREGA workers nowadays. From the already gathered experience, identification of any other suitable scope of income seems to be practically not very easy and even though that may be taken to, a number of them may not yield satisfactory result of fruitful income in the short run even though it does not require much effort in speaking out about the availability of alternative means of meaningful livelihood. Of course, lack of professional spirit with extension of red carpet to connivance and indulgence of the factors responsible for such lack of professional spirit, of a large number of industrial units is the major backlash in the efforts for industrial progress and hence undoubtedly paves the way for deserving mention. Being the need of the hour without any further lapse of time, furtherance of industrial progress by setting up new industrial units, increasing production and productivity and revamping the sick industrial units, must be the most imperative consideration in the list of priorities for all concerned. That above-mentioned appreciable move of the government of Maharashtra to replace the already left migrant workers with the unemployed youths of the state, will surely do away with the vexatious problem of growing unemployment in the state substantially even though to acquire minimum required efficiency, they will require time and I am too confident that over a period of time, the managements of those industrial units concerned will tide over that problem suitably.
Another very important aspect which must get due consideration is the earning opportunity of those migrant workers at their respective native places after their reverse migration from their places of work. Nobody should have any points to be dissident that at least with their utmost sincere and serious efforts, henceforth they should not be deprived of the sum total of the wages and the fringe benefits they enjoyed last being migrant workers, may that be their deployment as MGNREGA workers or as workers in any other fields now. Since the inception of the lockdown in India, I have been advocating for all possible efforts for retaining them at their places of work, keeping all the above-mentioned points in mind. To-day this problem of COVID-19 is there and a day will come when it will start ameliorating its devastating impact on the people. For the economy of the country after all we will have to create the favourable turf once again once this pandemic subsides paving the way for the economy to function normally. But being devoid of efficient manpower if the industries suffer, a question will surely haunt us- could that have been significantly avoided, had there been meaningful efforts for retaining them at their respective places of work at the very beginning of the lockdown? Availability of new hands in those industrial units will make them suffer both in production and productivity compromising on volume of production and increasing average sales price for the consumers to bear- more alarmingly, how long that will go on is unpredictable.
Then again, even though the recently launched Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana of the government in some districts of a few states, is showing a ray of hope of income opportunities for a number of migrant workers who have made their reverse migration to their those native states, yet on how much sustained basis there will be generation of income, degrees of viability of those opportunities, and if the income will be satisfactory etc. are some of the questions answers of which may not be available immediately. Besides, that scheme is confined to some districts of a few states only to start with not in all the states and the union territories.
Since very often we notice big gaps between expectation out of planning and result out of implementation of various government policies, with the increasing trend of unemployment, how much fruitful will be the government planning for providing suitable income opportunities to those reverse migrant workers, it is not easy to say now, but in view of the increasing trend of unemployment even without those migrant workers, a very optimistic and heartening outcome seems to be not so easy in the near future. But to overcome this crisis, not only the government, but all other concerned as well must rise to the occasion.