Jul 28, 2015

Rural India has to be the pivot of Skill India. Start with farmers

In the midst of all the excitement generated over the launch of an ambitious ‘Skill India’ initiative, I find two news reports to be particularly disturbing. These reports are a reflection of the worsening job scenario, with or without specially acquired ‘skills’.  

In Madhya Pradesh, 362,685 people applied for the jobs of peon/guards in 58 State Government departments. Of these 14,000 were either post-graduates or engineers. They all sat for a written examination. I wonder what kind of special skills are required to be a peon/guard that they need to go through a written test. Anyway, another news report tells us how a Mumbai-based post graduate, with four degrees in hand, including an MA in globalization and labour from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, is working with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation cleaning the city’s garbage. An MBA was among those who had recently applied for 26 jobs of peons in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh.

While the ‘Skill India’ initiative to provide particular skills to 400 million people by 2020 is certainly welcome, I don’t know whether we already have an over-skilled work force or we have a long way to catch up with some of the developed countries record in providing skills. For instance, if India were to just categorise its 52 per cent farming population as skilled workforce, it will immediately move into the developed country category with over 50 per cent skilled manpower. Farming being a skilled profession, farmers have been deliberately treated as non-skilled workers. Categorising farmers as skilled workforce has financial implications, including ensuring minimum wages, paying health expenses and also providing post retirement benefits. That’s why farmers are kept out.

Similarly, I find one of the biggest employment generating sectors – temples/churches/gurdwaras – to be outside the purview of skilled workforce. Those who join these religious institutions are also skilled, even if they don’t require an ITI diploma.

The definition of what constitutes a ‘skill’ therefore has to change. I see no reason why farmering, which employs 52 per cent of the population, should not be included as part of the skilled workforce. At the same time there is a dire need to launch a skill improvement programme for young farmers with adequate financial and institutional support to enable them to become start-ups and entrepreneurs. There is a much greater possibility to turn the young workforce in rural areas to learn avocations that can make them self-employed. This is specially required considering that nearly 81 per cent of the land holdings are below 2 acres, which means the young members of the small and marginal farm families need to be trained to supplement their income from non-farm activities.

Besides shifting the thrust of public investments to rural areas, what is also required is to provide proper incentives for bringing about a required change. A poor woman in a village who wants to rear a goat for creating a viable livelihood option too needs to be given incentives that are given to big industrial houses. She needs to borrow Rs 8,000 for buying a goat which comes from a Micro-Finance Institute (MFI) charging 24 per cent rate of interest. On the other hand, big industrial houses are often given credit at 0.1 per cent interest. If only the poor woman was to get the loan for buying a goat at 0.1 per cent I am sure she would be driving a Nano car at the end of two years. Similarly, Farmer Producer Companies, which enables farmers to get into entrepreneurship, have to pay an interest of 30 per cent on the profits generated. Why can’t it be brought down to 15 per cent to begin with? 

Therefore, there is a dire need to change the focus of skill development programme. It cannot be only aimed at meeting the requirement of 30-crore cheap labour -- dhari mazdoors -- that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates the construction sector will require by 2022. Only a fraction of the jobs in the construction sector would need the kind of skills that the ITIs are known to train them for. More than 95% jobs in the construction industry are simply of daily wager workers.  Also, an ICRIER study shows that automation and increase in labour productivity destroyed 11.8 million jobs in the manufacturing sector in post reforms period. That’s a warning that cannot be ignored. #

*Rural India has to be the pivot of Skill India: Start with farmers. ABPLive.in July 19, 2015

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