In Khitwas village in Birdha block , Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh, nearly half of its 5,000-strong population has left. With empty roads, locked homes and an eerie silence, it resembles an absolute ghost town. “These families need to leave because there is no proper work for labourers here,” says Hariprasad, one of the few remaining villagers. “They needed to leave so that they can earn money to raise their children,” he adds further.
Migration for employment is reaching crisis proportions in the country, even as it continues to be a silent, and hence often overlooked, socio-economic phenomenon. 3.5 million adults in India are amidst migration plans, while 1.3 million are actively prepping for it. Employment remains the central motivation for migration — the 2011 Census data shows that three crore of the 14 crore male migrants left their last place of residence in search of work.
The crisis of migration is particularly amplified in Uttar Pradesh, where 26.9 lakh more people migrated out than migrated in, the highest in the country. It is a problem that has been growing over time — between 2001 and 2011, more than 58 lakh people in the age group of 20-29 years left the state in search of jobs. Our consistent reporting on migration shows that the crisis in Bundelkhand has been building up over decades, and the worst affected populace remain the landless, Dalits and Adivasis. Hariprasad’s personal estimates — that 200 Adivasi families have left Khitwas — confirm this too. Kanai, another villager, says, “Of 100 people, at least 50 must be just roaming around, with no land or home. But there is no work here, what do we do?”
The solution to this crisis, proposed more than a decade ago by the then ruling UPA government, took the shape and form of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which promises employment within 15 days to any adult who applies for employment in rural India. As per the guidelines, if employment is not provided, an unemployment allowance has to be paid. Ten years later, even though the MGNREGA guarantees at least 100 days of unskilled labour employment, the national average days of employment per household is a measly 39.26 days.
Uttar Pradesh's average fares poorly even here, with a low of 33.81 workdays. Birdha, in comparison, is slightly better at an average at 42.86 days, but this is hardly any cause for celebration — it amounts to only little more than a month’s work in a whole year. The wage rates aren’t any better either: Uttar Pradesh's agreed upon rate is Rs 175, lower than their newly revised minimum wage of Rs 190 a day for unskilled labour. Even more shocking is the fact that between 2017 and 2018, the average wage rates did not change even as the inflation rate went from 3.6% to 4.74% in the same time period.
The lack of work is across both private and public sectors, and is gradually pushing people out to nearby towns and bigger cities in search for regular livelihoods. About the situation in Khitwas, Hariprasad says, “We left with our children to go to Indore for work for eight months, many go to Gwalior, Jhansi, Agra looking for work. We can’t afford to sit around and hope to find work here for eight to twelve months, can we?”
At the local employment office, Vanshilal, Birdha’s employment officer, has a confident counter argument along the lines of, “Only those who don’t want to work leave. It is not as if we don’t pay well in our village. If you do the work, wages are matched competitively with what everyone else pays. All the labourers’ wages have been paid in full, and are in their bank accounts.” Vanshilal’s smugness has a good reason – official data agrees with him. According to the NREGA website, 99.75% of payments in Birdha block were generated within 15 days — Rs 8.20 crore have already been paid amongst 16,488 actively employed card-holders in Birdha this year.
The daily wage labourers disagree. Makhan, a migrant worker who stopped by in Khitwa before she and her family head out to try their luck in Gumma says, “The difference between working here and working outside is that there they pay us for our work immediately. Here, you don’t get paid for months on end. You need to chase them even after two, or three, or four months after the work is completed, just to get your money, and even then it’s a struggle.”
And therein hangs a tale. Vanshilal falters briefly at this point, “The labourers who are working right now haven’t been paid because the government hasn’t given us the money yet.” He continued with the PR line soon after, “I’ve asked the DM about the same; he’s reassured me that as soon as they get the money — which they will — they will pay the labourers.”
The meandering journeys of direct cash transfers into beneficiaries’ bank accounts are, unfortunately, all too common. Although the guidelines state that the payment has to be made within 15 days of completion of work, and that any delays in payment entitle the recipients to compensation, stories of labourers struggling to get their dues even after three years of completing their tasks are familiar in Khitwas.
The Sub-Divisional Magistrate however denies the existence of this problem, “No such situation has ever arisen,” says Dheeraj Pratap Sinha in a soft, undisturbed voice. He then passes the buck subtly, “But if it ever does, I would implore news channels like yours, to inform us of the problem and tell the people to get their job cards made, so that the next time if there is an employment opportunity, we can inform them.”
Until then, the 752 registered workers in Khitwas must wait for work and for the money they're due, as they watch their neighbours board up shop and leave, looking for greener pastures. All that is left for them, if they choose to stay, are empty promises and an empty village.
Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.
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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 18:19:20 IST