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Settlers Unsettled: How can Bengaluru Retain its Dynamic Workforce?

Civil Society | Accountability & Transparency | Others | May 13, 2020

Bangalore is a city of migrants. But we do not know yet how many of them have left the city in the wake of the pandemic. With the lockdown partially lifted, many more may want to return home. There are indications that they may not wish to hurry back. The idea of home has never seemed so important to them as now. So that leaves a big question for this city of Bengaluru, which depends on its migrants for many day-to-day operations to keep it humming. What will Bengaluru look like in the interim? Which services will be affected? How will the city cope? Also, how have we treated the migrants in this crisis? What has the government done? What have been the experiences of the migrants; what would they want in the future? Will this shock treatment the city faces help us change our attitude and our dealings with migrants? Will we be more welcoming? Will we respect their rights Rohini Nilekani moderates a panel featuring Gayathri Vasudevan, Manish Sabharwal, Ramani Sastri and Divya Ravindranath.



0:06:00 Speaker 2: Ellarigu namaskara. Thank you so much, Ravi. Thank you, BIC, thank you, Raghu, thank you to my panelists as always and thank you to everyone who has tuned in. So as Ravi said, we have done three programs. This is the fourth in a series. And if some of you think that I’m popping up too much on this platform, after today, you’re gonna get a bit of respite. And in this series, what we’ve tried to do is to bring in current thought-provoking issues and bring in excellent panelists to help us all, primarily Bangaloreans, because after all this is the Bangalore International Center, to enable the city and its citizens to put the best foot forward. So today, we turn to another important question as we had before, and this time that is of migrant labour. As before, we will try to put the city at the center of this debate because we all know that when a city is governed well, then it’s inhabitants thrive and it also feeds into the economy of the whole state, if not that of the whole country.

0:07:05 S2: Let me start this time with a slightly personal angle. I myself am a migrant to the city which is now my own. My husband was born here, Nandan, but I stepped into it for the first time only in 1984 and started falling in love with it right away because I was born in manic Mumbai and to come to a city of trees and gardens where people strolled about in a relaxed sort of way, and people from all corners of the country and then later the world, was novel and marvelous. And I started my work here as a journalist and took bus number 20 from Jayanagar to St. Marks Road where my office was. But soon after that, the city began to change almost immediately and many, many people started coming into the city. In fact old-timers, resented people like us from the IT sector, which had taken this paradise of pensioners and PSUs and turned it into the struggling mess. And sometimes today, even I find myself looking in this very unfamiliar city growing into areas where I’d never seen it with all these buildings and higgledy-piggledy highways and say, “How did this happen? Where did all these people come from and how did all these buildings come about?” which is kind of an awful thing to do for a 30-year-old migrant like me, but apparently that’s what people do. They forget that everybody comes from somewhere and that waves of new people are actually good for a city and its future.

0:08:36 S2: But however, I already got a chance when I was here in the ’80s and ’90s to start working with several organizations including Akshara Foundation and get to go into dozens and dozens of slums and low income tenements to realize that not everybody is so lucky as I, and to get affordable housing, to get a great job, and also to have access to good public infrastructure, like in some sense we did have in the ’80s. So while we understand that migrants can come from all classes, all casts, all walks of life, today, we’re gonna try and focus on those migrants that do not get the experience that they deserve. Of course, we know the city depends on migrants and more than half of Bangalore is migrants and probably when the next census comes, we’ll know the next better numbers, but their narrative often makes up the best and the biggest chunk of the city’s history. In Bangalore, we know that most are from Karnataka itself, and then from neighboring states. Now, we also know many people have come in from the Northeast and more and more from not just India, but globally, as well. In the past few months, the vulnerable migrant has haunted the public image, awakened our conscience and humans suffering from the lockdown, the desperate need of migrants to go back home and the inadequate and sometimes downright in-humane response of the state has filled our minds.

0:10:06 S2: In Bangalore, we don’t know how many migrants have left the city in the wake of the pandemic and how many more will leave once the lockdown is properly lifted. But there are indications that they may not going to hurry back and the idea of home has never seemed so important. And also, many states are crafting new policies to retain and attract investment, which will create more opportunities for people in their own states. So there may be a completely new dynamic of labour availability, but it’s not a one-sided picture because many migrants are desperate to return and get their jobs back, because emotional security may be there at home, but there may not be financial security. So we don’t know if deepening rural distress might not force actually newer migrants to come into our city. So that leaves a big question to us, which my panel will help us to answer which is, “How can we fashion the city to be more welcoming of its migrants so that we can be part of a flourishing economy and society?”

0:11:05 S2: What are the public infrastructure and policies we need? And we learn from Kerala which has created good, decent hostels for, what it calls, guest workers or can we become a magnet of opportunity or will we remain a refuge from distress? So these issues and more will be discussed in a excellent panel. Gayathri Vasudevan will talk to us about how we build capacities and skills in the migrant laborer, and so that they have more employment opportunities. Manish Sabharwal, of course, of TeamLease who are the big picture on everything to do with labour. Divya, from IIHS, Ravindranath, she has done a lot of research on several aspects of urbanization. And Ramani Sastri of Sterling Developers who is also associated with the industry association, CREDAI, will speak from the perspective of industry, especially the construction industry.

0:12:02 S2: As usual, the format will be as follows. We are gonna show a very short clip right after I finish. Then, my panelists get five minutes each to speak. I do a round of questions. And then, I really focus on picking up all the questions that you people will feel. Do please keep your questions, as Ravi requested, short, sharp, and focused so I can take as many of them as I possibly can. I will try my best. So thank you all, namaskara again. And off we go, Raghu, could you please play the clip? Thank you so much. Gayathri, you will be invited right after that.

[foreign language]

0:15:21 S2: Thank you, Raghu, thank you team for putting that together. I’m now going to ask Gayathri to put on her video and unmute herself. And please, Gayathri, give us five minutes of your thoughts on this question of migrant labour.

0:15:43 Speaker 3: Thank you, Rohini, and thank you BIC for actually listening to the stories that you just heard at this point. Rohini, to start with, I come from Bangalore, right? I was born and brought up here. So this is my city. The city as you said has grown so much beyond recognition there. And one of the things is, let’s look at our everyday life. Everyday life will not work without migrants. Construction sites don’t work without migrants, restaurant workers don’t work without migrants. The entire… All your idli joints that are there today are only managed by migrants. Your domestic workers oftentimes are coming as migrants, so it’s not one segment. And if we look at statistics, there’s no firm hold on numbers, but if we go with the construction board statistics, just this year eight lakh workers have been registered, out of which 30 to 40 percent are migrants, which means either they come from within Karnataka or outside Karnataka. So when I was talking of it, they could be from North Karnataka, they could be from outside. All the stories you heard now were all people… And this is an invisible group, they’re always from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal. This is the states which send them.

0:17:15 S3: If you have marble labors, they’re from Rajasthan, or your security guards, they’re from Assam. So that’s the story of our lives. Now, just imagine a city where none of them are there. How are you gonna open your gates? How are you going to ensure that your electrician comes in, who’s from either Orissa or from Tamil Nadu, South Ramna districts and fix it. How are you gonna have your plumbers fix it? I think that’s the problem that the city is facing today. And I think that going forward, all of them will want to go back home, at least for a period of time. We treated them badly. And as people who lived here, we didn’t realize how important they were in our lives and I think that’s why we didn’t bother with their working conditions, their living conditions, it didn’t matter to us. They were in our neighborhoods, but they were invisible. I think the country is going to see a worker surplus and worker deficit areas. And Bangalore is going to be a worker deficit areas.

0:18:24 S3: So our manufacturing estates, your Nagarur, Bommasandra, Dobbaspet, Kolar has 8,000 factories which are going to open up. Do they have the people to open up? We’ve seen people walking to the train stations to go back. Every day, we are feeding 7,500 plus people at food just at the railway station because they’ve all come a long way, just hungry and thirsty and go back. Would you wanna come back to a place like this? I think that’s the question we have to morally ask ourselves. Did we do right by them? Could we have done anything better? I think that’s the question that we have to ask ourselves. Now, we’ve got ourselves into this mess. How do we get out of this mess? I think that’s about us learning what is skilling and re-skilling for whoever comes in now, who is there now, how are we going to treat them is gonna be our report card. So I think it’s for us to actually score well. We scored badly is a given fact. How do we score well from now on is what we are going to etch for ourselves as we move forward.

0:19:36 S2: Thank you so much. Of course, I’m gonna come back to you with several questions, but let me go from here to Divya. Divya, can you paint a picture for us… IIHS is in the business of urbanization research, and can you paint a big picture for us of what this means in terms of the whole city? Thank you. Please go ahead.

0:20:02 Speaker 4: I think one of the things we want to ask ourselves… Everybody’s saying that this is an emotional response, workers are going back because that’s where their families are. A question that we also want to ask in the longterm is, “What can we do to keep the workers back?” And I think that’s the question many of us are not asking. So one of the things to constantly remind ourselves is that it is almost unviable for workers to live in a city when there are no wages or where there is no employment. And in a circumstance like this, that’s the first reaction. People want to go home because they feel like there is some support structure there, but if all of these were in place, these are like patchwork things that people do to sustain themselves in the city. If you look at a workers life, in a single day, the number of expenses he or she incurs, it’s from paying for the public toilet, to paying very high rents within the city, because land, labour, all of these are deeply connected. The food systems, they are mostly not integrated into, so they also have to buy smaller meals, pay everyday for it, so it’s multiple small transactions that they’re making. All of these make their life very difficult in the city.

0:21:07 S4: So we need to also ask in the long term, “What is it that we can do to actually help our workers stay back?” So it’s now time to talk about those enabling circumstances. And as Gayathri said, the way we are going today, it might be impossible for workers to come back, especially after this experience, which is going to also have an emotional, a mental impact. So we need to also start thinking about what are those solutions? I would think broadly, there are two ways of thinking about it. One is the employer and one is the state. And it has to be a combination of responses that we give from both the state and the employer. It cannot be either one or it can’t be just putting the whole responsibility on one because we’ve seen that doesn’t work. So what are some of the things that we can do? One is that we need to be able to think about wages as something that, of course, matches their skill, but also something that enables them to sustain in the city.

0:22:00 S4: So we’re talking about safe working conditions as well, we’re talking about living conditions. In the absence of any safety nets and of course I’m sure somebody will bring it up, labour laws are going to be amended in several states, and that’s a conversation we can have, but at a time like this, how crucial the safety nets are, that has sort of come out right in the open. Same in terms of access to water and sanitation, and I also want to quickly point out that often we think of workers as a male worker, but a lot of migrant workers in the city are also female workers. So there are certain particular needs of the female worker that we also need to keep in mind, whether it’s healthcare, access to health care systems, reproductive health being a major challenge for women due to access like during our field work, we know several women just don’t take antenatal care because that’s an expense. And so they are like, “It’s not an illness, we haven’t injured ourselves. It’s just, we are just pregnant, right?”

0:22:52 S4: And why are these happening? Because you’re not connected to that healthcare system. Same in terms of childcare facility, the minute we start thinking about female workers, we also think about childcare facilities. So these are the things that workers want from their employers, from the state. We also need to start thinking about a range of housing arrangements. Not all workers are the same in the city. There are short-term migrants, there are semi-permanent migrants, there are some migrants who are very seasonal. They come just for a few months, go back because they do agriculture in the village. So we need to have a range of housing arrangements for all these workers. Then, we also need to realize there are various kinds of sectors, so we keep talking about migrant workers as though they are a single identity, but within that there are multiple sectors and we need to recognize the specific needs of each of these sectors. For example, garment workers live in clusters, construction workers are the most mobile because they’re going from site to site. So we need to also start thinking about what it means at the city level to think about migrant workers who step in and out but sometimes also stay back.

0:23:54 S4: And the last point, I’d probably end here, is that sometimes migrants have lived in the city for maybe two generations, three generations but the problem is they’re still considered to be outsiders or considered to be outside of what we understand as a city by the state. So they live in… They live in informal settlements, they live in slums that are unrecognized and they’re completely disconnected from any services that the state provides. We also need to think of these workers, like what happens to them because there is no sending and receiving city for these workers. They now call this place a home. So I think we need to think about these range of migrants and the range of activities they are involved in and that will then point us to certain solutions which we haven’t thought so far. Maybe this is the perfect time to start thinking about all of them.

0:24:41 S2: Thank you very much, Divya, and you’re right to bring up the question of what do we mean by migrants? Is it the second generation, third generation? By now, they should not be feeling like migrants. They should be feeling part of the city. They should be able to have housing here, they should be able to vote here, and so on and so forth, and make demands on the… Legitimate demands on the state and also on their employers. Well, let’s move then to Ramani if you could put your… Unmute yourself and put on your video Ramani, give us a industry perspective, especially a construction industry perspective on this question with your vast experience on it. Thank you.

0:25:26 Speaker 5: Well, good evening. I must say thanks so much, Rohini, because a lot has been said in the press and the media about the kind of treatment meted out to some of the migrant workers. Now, migrant worker is basically a very generic term used for everybody. And while we understand that you have construction sector, all the export industries are dependent on labour, the hospitality industry is dependent on labour, all that you see is a blend of everybody. Speaking for the type of real estate developers that are in Bangalore, most of the real estate developers, at least the segment that I can speak about, have fairly looked after the labour in their labour colonies. I must share with you that it not fair because most of the contracting companies working in the city who work for us, like the likes of L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji, then, you’ve got JMC, NCCCL. These are all large listed contracting companies which actually invest in ensuring health, hygiene for the workers all the time. And we provide accommodation, which is more like a transit camp.

0:26:52 S5: Every large project has got its own transit camp. Now, you have to get this because a lot of labour which has been wanting to move out is not necessarily the construction labour. Karnataka has two types of… Karnataka has two sets of labour, those coming from North Karnataka is from places like Gulbarga and Koppal and Bidar and all that, and the other set is all those coming from the BIMARU states, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Now, each one comes with a different skill set. Like, Gayathri mentioned, the Rajasthani guys only do tiling. They don’t do anything else other than tiling, they’re only meant for tiling and stuff like that. The Oriya workers are only doing plumbing. They’re not doing anything else. The UP workers are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting in the construction site.

0:27:52 S5: Now, a lot of them that you see want to go normally, harvest season. During this part of the year, we tend to lose at least 30% of the workforce because they go back to their homeland to make sure that some agriculture work in their own land that is there will be done, and they all come back post July. Now, we already had one set of people who have gone home for Holi, which is another important festival in Northern India. So those of them are already ready to come back. And there are some part of it who are anxious because, one, the government has not handled this whole issue of Corona very well. See, there’s not enough education on ground. The average worker thinks if he, by chance, encounters the word Corona, he’s dead. So we have on our project sites and some of the other developer project sites, we’ve had doctors not only to check them on a every third day basis, but we’ve also had kind of tutorials for them where people have explained to them what is it, what should they look for, and how should they take care of themselves?

0:29:08 S5: While I do agree that I wouldn’t paint the entire industry with the same colour and say all of them have been fair, but I speak for about 50% of us who looked after them, who fed them. And please understand we had to… We can’t feed them what Karnataka eats mosaranna, chitranna. It’s not the food that they eat. So we had to create food packets, not as in cooked food, but as in grains. So most of the workers were given grains for two weeks at a time and for all the six weeks, we’ve looked after them and we fed them properly, we’ve paid them. See, but when you say we have paid them, what happens is you pay them what is their out-of-pocket expenses, because the labour contractor who controls them… They all come through a labour contractor. The labour contractor works with the principal contractor. We do not have direct access to any of the labour because they are not on my books. The labour is on the books of the labour contractor and the labour contractor deals with the contractor who is working with us. So while I do agree that we need to give them a better quality of life, and I think some of the labour reforms that have to happen, or you need to just annul all the labour laws that are archaic, bring in better laws.

0:30:34 S5: Now, today, we are happy to give a worker who has worked with a contracting company for five years, we are happy to promote and give him a kind of a permanent quarter housing, two-bedroom, one-bedroom housing, we’re happy to do that, but unfortunately, the income tax doesn’t recognize that. They consider that as a fixed asset. It’s not a fixed asset, it’s a capital expenditure for me. They’re not allowing us to use that as a write off. So number one, that. Number two, landlords. See, you have to realize Bangalore is fairly circular. So you have to start picking up large tracts of land, cut the revenue issue, cut all the land-related issues and allow us to create homes, housing for these set of people. Their budgets may not be beyond five, seven lakhs. But at five, seven lakhs, they can find a decent housing. All that you need is the support infrastructure around that place, they must have. As far as we are concerned, as far as the construction sector is concerned, we are always bus to work, and bus back from work. If they don’t have in situ, they’re bus and bus back. Now, you look at the metro work that is going on in the city. The metro work is today engaging 8,000 to 10,000 labourers. All of them, you can see them at work during the day and in the night, you don’t find anyone in the city.

0:32:05 S5: They’re all being housed 30, 35 kilometers away. So I don’t see an issue doing that if there is a policy of creating transit camps and permanent residences, see because we can’t do without them, we need them. And when I say we need them, it is not one sector, every sector plus a lot of households need what we call as migrant labour. So you can’t sit and today say, “Hey, listen, today my staff has not come,” because if you want to really look at it, understand this. When I talk of people, everybody treats their servants very, very differently. Some people deal with them with a human touch, some people deal with them very, very authoritatively. And I’m sure everyone has experienced these differences, but one way that we can put all of it behind us and welcome these people back… I must also tell you, just today, one of my contractors mentioned that those who went for Holi, those guys are itching to come back. They’re already ready to come back because there’s really no work back home.

0:33:15 S5: So a lot of them don’t wanna go back but are currently wanting to go back as an emotional issue. When they come back, they definitely will go back to those people who’ve handled them and looked after them well. But eventually, if they don’t find employment that they are looking for because they don’t come with too many skill sets, either we should start investing in skilling them first, first skill them and then eventually let them try and be a part of any sector that they want to. Sorry. Okay, thanks so much.

0:33:54 S2: Thank you. Of course, we’ll be coming back to you with several questions. Thank you for that. Manish, over to you now to give us the true picture on labour and what kind of labour reform is coming up.

0:34:10 Speaker 6: No, I think we’ll focus on migrants. We can talk about labour reform if you want. I think the fundamental question is that taking people to jobs is the second best choice. We’d rather take jobs to people. But that’s not how development works, I think. In Chinese, new year is a four-day weekend in February. 250 million buy a train ticket and go home. We don’t have that in India on Chhath, Diwali, Eid, or Christmas and that is because India only has 52 cities with more than a million people. China has 375. Obviously, Bangalore is one of them. But we have six lakh villages and two lakh of those villages have less than 200 people. So you’re not going to be able to take jobs. So this notion that somehow… Obviously, there’s a homing instinct for people to go home when it feels like the world is shutting down or it feels like everything’s happening.

0:35:00 S6: But my sense is there are 70 million migrants in India, 40 million of them are in the labour force, 30 million are dependents. About half a million have gone home, maybe a million will go home. I don’t think 40 million migrants are going home. I don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of labour because even the lockdown is sort of a gentle sunrise. It’s not a bulb that goes on. Most companies are at 25% capacity utilization. Next week, they’ll be at 50. After that, they’ll get to 75. So there is actually already a small spike at the bottom of the pyramid in wages in Bangalore. And so therefore, many of the people who were sitting on the fence are staying back. So I think that we have to look at this from all three perspectives, right? The state which is sending the people, places like Bangalore which are getting them, and the person who is a migrant.

0:35:50 S6: And most migration is not voluntary, it is involuntary migration. They’re not running… They’re running towards something but they also are running away from something. And so it’s important to recognize in the next 20 years, only 5% of population growth in India will be in the five states of South and West India, but maybe 40-45% of GDP growth. Kerala has the same demographics as Italy. So it’s not going to be able to function without migrant labour. And so we have to really… So is this a choice? I’m not sure this is a choice. Can cities get better at handling migrant labour? Of course, they can. Cities are economic engines. New York’s GDP is equal to Russia and that’s for a reason because we work together. When we live together, we are more productive. So my sense is that the recognition that India doesn’t have a jobs problem, we have a wages problem is actually a mirror image of our cities. We have urbanization, but we don’t have good urbanization, right? The average taxi in Bangalore in central business district travels at eight kilometers an hour. Most people can walk that fast and so we lost the productivity outside of the internal combustion engine, but that doesn’t have to be. But that said, Bangalore is a job magnet.

0:37:10 S6: Bangalore is what most old people… Nostalgia is obviously… I’ve only been here 15 years, but I don’t remember the old Bangalore. But it’s a great place for anybody in the country to come, anybody to… It’s a… The infrastructure of opportunity in Bangalore… Entrepreneurial advice is only one traffic jam away. You can think of various reasons to move to Bangalore and I think that those reasons are only getting stronger. Of course, it’s what most people call problems. I had a global investor a few months ago. He was one hour late for my meeting and he had gone to Electronic City and he said… He wouldn’t stop ranting. I mean most of us are used to people being late but he said, “Bangalore is an athlete without shoes. And how are you gonna do this?” Well, I’d let him rant for a while. But then, I stopped him. I said, “We call this growth.” 30 years ago it used to take you 10 minutes or maybe 15 minutes to get to Electronic City. But that wasn’t exactly what we’re aiming for. So I think we could do better urbanization. I think the question of, “How do we make Bangalore better?” is the only question here. You’re not gonna be able to stop Bangalore from being Bangalore.

0:38:24 S2: Okay, Manish, surely we are coming back to you. But you mentioned taking people to jobs, right? So I’m gonna bring Gayathri in for that. Gayathri, can you give us a sense of the kind of jobs that are available, but people are not skilled for because labour net tries to do a lot of the matching between the capacity needs and industry. Can you give us a sense of that? What are the capacities that need to be built? Because the jobs are there and you just need to build those skills in the people who have come here or want to come here. And also give us a sense of this city and then Manish can kick in on that as well. For a family of four or five or even a single person, a young male person or a female person who comes to work here, what do they need to keep their body and mind together? And little bit of heart satisfaction also in a city like this.

0:39:25 S3: So let me take the first question. I think the big problem is the large lack of skills. I think Ramani alluded to that is the entire, “You learn skills on the job.” So there is nobody who is working in the vocation, so to speak, who actually knows the vocation. And today, we have engineers and doctors who have added to that group almost. We have a lot of colleges which are not producing significantly good graduates. But if you look at the lower segment of work that is there, I think that’s a terrible problem which has plagued us for years and decades. And I sometimes feel maybe this has been the time where hybrid education will really go in. Imagine every work place is like an Oyo, you could go do your practical there, but you could really use technology to have virtual classrooms and asynchronous modalities of learning. I think that will open it up. I also want to…

0:40:28 S2: And is that happening?

0:40:30 S3: Sorry?

0:40:30 S2: Is that happening?

0:40:31 S3: Not happening, but I think it could happen is what I said. So I wanna borrow one statistics which Manish referred to, right? The economic as well as the administrative unviability of practically 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. So India has 6 lakh gram panchayats, 2.5 lakh gram panchayats are absolutely unviable. That means their Auxiliary nurse midwife is not able to go regularly, the teacher is not able to go regularly, what talk of jobs, right? So that is your problem that we have there. But we do have 7,000 census towns which could possibly be at a population of a lakh. So if you just take that argument further, if we’re able to actually develop 7,000 census towns, it’s probably better, so which would also mean satellite towns. Just the other day I was listening to a conversation where someone was saying, “Bangalore may not be viable with the kind of physical distancing norms that offices have to have.” Could you move to Hosur? Could you move to Anekal? Could you move to Jigani? These are questions we have to ask. Bangalore is not Bangalore alone. So the continuum that we’re able to create is very important as we move forward. The thing is, I would also agree that the bigger construction sites, the bigger corporates looked after their people.

0:41:57 S3: And I can vouch for that, given the support that in many of our training sites that we had. But the problem is, Bangalore is not about bigger sites and nor is most of India. It is the small builders, it is the neighboring construction… The neighboring restaurants, it is that group which is the larger group. And in a sense, they couldn’t do it. We were neither policy-wise ready nor did we have the foresight to get it. And I think that’s the opportunity we have now to turn it around to say, what kind of habitations do we want? What kind of working conditions are right? And I think the focus on occupational safety and health will go up tremendously. The fear is not because it’s for the migrant, it’s because we are fearing ourselves. Will you get Corona, will I get Corona is the question. So the moment I feel the middle class fears for itself, it will wake up to doing things better is my hope.

0:43:00 S2: But Gayathri, this kind of thing with smaller units, for that themselves not being economically viable enough to spend a lot on their workers, is this going to come about to more regulation, more inspection. How is it actually going to happen that those workers get better treatment if those smaller dispersed units are also very prevalent in the city?

0:43:22 S3: I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve been thinking that, if you look at an Amitabh Bachchan Angry Man film, there are five things which happen, right? You have the police, you have the inspector, you have the labour inspector, you have the health inspector, and you have the ration guy. So any ’80s movie resembled that for you. There was that culture of, “What’s the state gonna do for you?” was basically this and if you had any export, it was the customs. So we’re going back into that modality, I fear, unless we are going to work proactively to solve a problem. Regulation without heart will go nowhere. So our ability to actually, in a sense, I have a carrot and stick policy, but more of a carrot to ensure that they are incentivized to do it is important.

0:44:18 S2: Manish, do you want to comment on this? How are we going to ensure that the migrants who are here, how can we help them ramp up their skills to match what’s available in the job market? And how are we going to make… Talk a bit actually about your pet subject now on labour reforms. This is the time to tell us exactly what labour reforms should be happening, what is happening in states like UP, should we worry about that? Is it a tussle between the Constitution and the Disaster Management Act? Just enlighten us on this, because it is a subject that is being talked about, but not is fully understood.

0:45:00 S6: Hi, I think it’s too early to say the details, but essentially, we have 63 million enterprises in India, only one million of them pay social security. Only 19,500 have a paid up capital of more than 10 crores, and I think it’s important to recognize that finally wages depend on productivity of enterprises. We don’t need 63 million enterprises. The US economy is eight times our size, it only has 23 million enterprises. So many of these are not self-employment, they are self-exploitation. So I think that our labour is handicapped without capital. We have 63 million enterprises with lots of labour, but our capital is handicapped without labour. We have 19,500 companies with lots of capital and they treat labour like a sort of… They’re automating the hell out of themselves so that they don’t deal with India’s labour laws.

0:45:46 S6: So I think it was pre-mature to think about an Indian labour laws that… With 17 definitions of wages, with 22 definitions of workers, we have 19 definitions of enterprise. And you can’t comply with 100% of India’s labour laws without violating 10% of them. So that’s a reality. Now, you will come at it from different ways to say that, “Well, 90% of India is informally employed.” Well, for them labour laws are irrelevant. So if labour laws are meant to help most people, then the labour aristocracy is the only one getting the help. So I think that it is time for us to recognize that the current system is not working. That doesn’t mean there should be some non-negotiables, health and safety should be non-negotiable, some portable social security maybe non-negotiable, some realistic minimum wages should be non-negotiable, but everything else… The regulatory cholesterol in India for employers, we have 57,000 compliances, we have 3,100 filings and this changes eight times a day. Large companies like us who have 150 guys in regulatory affairs can deal with it, but it’s absolutely impossible for small companies to keep track.

0:46:58 S6: So I’d say the formalization of the Indian labour force, which has been an important policy objective is important, and formalization is not by stake, because 63 million enterprises, you can’t hire enough inspectors to formalize them. You’ll have to convince entrepreneurs at a firm level that the costs of formalization are lower than the benefits of formalization. I think we’re starting to get there, by the way. I think that in the past, every entrepreneur said that the benefits of formalization were lower than the costs and therefore I will not formalize, I will not pay PF, I will not pay ESI, I will not give appointment letters, I will pay wages in cash. Now, there are lots of reasons why formalization is, including GST and many others, the digital footprints. So I would say the formalization is already happening. If you take the non-farm labour force, we’re probably upto 40-50% formal. Because we have 250 people, half our labour force of 45% in firms that the informal number sort of looks much larger. So I’d say that labour laws are an important part of the reform program.

0:48:07 S6: There’s a Renaissance physician, Paracelsus. He says, “The dose makes the poison.” So anything powerful enough to help has the power to hurt. I think that labour law reform doesn’t mean no labour laws. It means calibrated labour laws. It means labour laws which don’t encourage the treating of labour as a disease and automate. If you are worried about automation and machine learning and artificial intelligence before the Coronavirus, that has just been brought forward by 10 years after this. So I think that we have to be careful when we think about labour laws as purely exploitation. Obviously, we don’t want to ding dong from one extreme to the other. So I think that a balance will be found, and no, it’s not a constitutional balance. There’s no such thing as India’s labour market, there may be such as thing as India’s capital market, but every labour market is local and the 254 [2] of the constitution allows states to amend labour laws of the center, of course, they can do their own. They need permission from the President. They don’t need permission from the parliament. And I think China’s genius wasn’t some Ayatollah in Beijing issuing fatwas. It was 200 mayors competing for investment. So 29 chief ministers matter more than one prime minister for job creation and 200 mayors matter more than 29 chief ministers.

0:49:24 S2: Thank you, that’s a lot of good information, but can I just come back to this point that you made that, of course, there have to be some non-negotiables. And so the kind of reporting that we are seeing that labour will be forced to stay back to work, that they will have to work longer hours for the same pay, that they will… Is that going to happen? Before I move to Divya, do you think something like that will actually happen and be allowed to happen?

0:49:56 S6: As in, I’m not able to understand. Are you saying that if the working day is extended, people… The working day is extended for everybody right now, because they have not been put on loss of pay, right? So everybody is allowed to have a longer working hour. It’s an enabling provision, it doesn’t make it mandatory.

0:50:15 S2: Yeah, but with adequate pay comp… With adequate compensation, over-time compensation?

0:50:20 S6: Yes, yes.

0:50:20 S2: Is that completely a non-negotiable? Okay, let me turn to Divya on this. What are you reading, hearing, what do you think… How do you think we should look at this post COVID sort of return to make the economic engine hum, but looking at it from informal labour, looking at it from the city’s migrants? Go ahead.

0:50:40 S5: So just to respond to some of these questions about long working hours and so on, I think one of the things that we don’t do is connect various kinds of sources of data together. So we also need to understand that most of the workers in the informal sector also belong to communities where we’ve seen very high rates of malnutrition, for example, very high rates of anaemia, for example. One of the questions we want to ask and answer is that how are workers going to work if one wants to talk about productivity, if that’s the sort of the measurement, it’s going to be impossible for workers to do those long hours because we haven’t thought of all the other supportive infrastructure. So just to sort of respond to that quickly, we’ve been working at construction sites doing field work at various construction sites for over three, four years now and the situation is very bad in terms of workers’ pure, just health outcomes. So that’s one thing to think about because everybody also wants to think about productivity, if that’s the link one wants to make.

0:51:43 S4: As I was saying if we want to start envisaging a better city for our workers, we cannot afford to disconnect them from food systems and basic public infrastructure. The other thing I also wanted to sort of point out is that, very often, our workers do work that is extremely taxing, both physically and mentally, but we don’t think of them as people beyond requirements of just wages. So there are absolutely no recreational facilities for our workers. They’re holed in and out of either labour camps or if they’re doing in situ accommodation and so on. We also need to start thinking about them as people who have other needs like all of us. So these are some of the things at the city level, we need.

0:52:27 S2: How much? How much of that would you… That responsibility would you put at the door of the state and how much would you put at the door of the employer?

0:52:35 S4: None of these can be done either by the state or the employer alone. It has to be a good mix of both. In corporate sector, we see all the time, people talking about improving work conditions because that’s we need to better productivity. How come we never hold labourers to the same… People employing laborers to the same standards? So it has to be a good mix. The state has to think about ways in which letting people enjoy the city like all of us do, because it’s aspirational, right? People are coming for income, but they’re also coming because the city is a space of… It’s an aspiration, and they want to be here. So we have to think about it in all these terms. We just can’t keep thinking about them as labourers, as bodies that are just going to be labouring day in and out. And also, if I may quickly respond to the point about contractors. I’ve been now [0:53:24] ____… Many webinars, we’ve been having conversations with all kinds of stakeholders and it’s really interesting, everybody puts the blame on the contractor. So the developer says, “I don’t know what’s happening with the worker because I’m going through the contractor.” You ask the workers, they say, “We don’t know what is happening because I have no connection to the employer, I’m only going through the contractor.” So we also need to start thinking about what this chain of command means and ultimately who is going to be responsible for the worker.

0:53:48 S2: Thank you. Of course, Ramani and Manish, both of you, if you could respond. Ramani, would you like to go first, please?

0:53:56 S5: Yeah, Divya, let me tell you, when we say that the labour isn’t brought in by the contractor, I think we need to step back and understand how this whole theory of contract labour has been working so far. Now, a guy from Orissa who decides to come to Bangalore is not sourced by the principal contractor. There are what we call it, like in the technology field, it used to be, in the ’70s, people who went to the Middle East, went in for oil jobs and they were also taken in as contractor like body shoppers.

0:54:37 S5: Now, every 5 or 10 villagers has one mukhiya, and that mukhiya is the guy who actually assembles these 5, 6 hundred labourers together work, I mean, basically bodies. These are all unskilled people or semi or probably not skilled at all, but he collects them because their aspiration is to earn some money, to save some money and put some money back home. So he actually takes responsibility for them, brings them to the city, paying the transport, whatever that’s their internal understanding. And when he comes here, he goes to the principal contractor who could be L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji, anybody. There are various levels of principal contractors. Now, a contractor can say, “I need 200 masons, 100 tile layers, 100 brick sellers,” he can lay out what he wants. And he will bring the mukhiya or the so called Sub, brings in these people, and on a clear condition, that the responsibility of money… Because when he brings them to the city of Bangalore, back home, each one of these people have four or five family members to feed. So in the earlier days, when there was no system whereby money could be remitted to the villages, the mukhiya used to take the money in his account, transfer it to his account back home, and made sure that all the kirana merchants in that place would offer you credit. So the family always got whatever they wanted in terms of amount and credit back home.

0:56:13 S5: Now, today what has happened is, in the last 40-50 days, I’ve also heard what you’re trying to say, but most of us have personally stepped out of our homes, visited not only our own construction workers, but other sites too to ensure that… Most of us, for the first time… I’m saying this, it could cost me anything, doesn’t matter. We decided that we are not giving any money to the chief minister’s relief fund or to the prime minister’s relief fund. We decided that whatever we need to do on ground, we will do it ourselves. So including feeding some part of the villages, which don’t even directly come within our jurisdiction, but on humanitarian grounds, I think about 10 or 12 companies in this city has actually looked after 50,000 meals every single day.

0:57:07 S2: Thank you. Thank you, Ramani. I want you to pull back a bit on the question of… Because I do want to keep that city perspective. If you want to keep… And construction work employs so many people and you have shown us how good employers can be. If we want to retain… The metro has to be finished, so much public infrastructure has to be built, so much more, low cost and other housing needs to be constructed. If we want to keep construction workers satisfied, upgrading their skills all the time, what are the 3 public infra-priorities that you would look at?

0:57:42 S5: See definitely, we’re already doing skill development for a lot of the workers that are employed with most of… Whether you’re employed or not employed, CREDAI with Skill Development Council is doing skill development in almost all the states and almost all the cities in this country. Even in Bangalore, we are doing it which enhances your skill, you enhance your daily income too. So we are certifying you there’s a process for it.

0:58:09 S2: Right.

0:58:10 S5: So that is one thing for sure. Now, you come to… Somebody mentioned, I think Divya mentioned or Gayathri, I don’t know, the kind of entertainment that you need to provide for them when they go back home. See, most of the housing colonies that, at least most of the labour colonies that we’ve got, till about 10 years ago, it was every weekend we would provide a projector and a movie and all that. Now, all of them seem to watch a movie on their smartphone. So they really don’t need that kind of an entertainment that we looked at. Now, when you come to public places, see, everybody wants a labourer to work. But when they come to a public place and if the labourer and his family is also there, most of us don’t like it. We are not welcoming of another class of gentry into the same public space which is getting dwindled.

0:59:04 S2: Yeah. Let me quickly use that segue to go to a question from one of our audience is, “How much does caste play into all of this?” Gayathri and Divya, then, I’m giving it to Manish. A very quick response from Gayathri and Divya. The way we treat migrants, the way even they are… That this caste will do this work, etcetera, etcetera, can you enlighten us very quickly? We’re running out of time. I want to take in audience questions.

0:59:34 S3: So I think caste plays a role. Most of the… All the workers that you have in the construction sector will either belong to the OBC caste or to the Dalit. These will be the two. The skilled will definitely… Some of them will be in the OBC caste. All the Yadavs you hear will toggle between the SC and the OBC. If you look at the Northeastern, beauty parlours, for example… Because they all belong to a particular region would be ST, I’m assuming. Restaurant workers, you’ll have a mix. So yeah, large number and it’s just a caste and class is a reality that India has lived with, and it’s a reflection of what happens here also.

1:00:20 S2: Thank you. Though Bangalore is particularly cosmopolitan because of its history as well the Madras Presidency, the Marathas, people from all over the place, the IT sector bringing other people, quick response, Divya, before I go to Manish.

1:00:33 S4: Yes, it’s completely caste… There is a caste element, there is a gender element, and we cannot ignore it. Some of it we’ve seen in the kind of response the state has given in the last few weeks. The fact that international migrants were brought in special planes but no transport was arranged for our own workers, it is impossible for us to not think of it at caste issue or a class issue. And the fact that Mr. Ramani having… Thanks for pointing out the good things that developers are doing, because those are not the stories we hear about generally. But the point that he’s making is a very important one. We don’t want workers visible to us once the work is done, so we want them for our work, and then magically, we want them to just disappear from our eyesight, and that’s the question we need to ask ourselves as a society.

1:01:16 S2: And very different actually in some sense from Mumbai where I grew up, where there was much more of integration than there is in Bangalore, now with increasing more gated communities and really making workers invisible as far as possible. In Bombay where I lived in, it was a recently upper middle class area, but right around us, the workers were not at all invisible. They were right there. And there was much more integration of jobs, places, housing, and everything. Maybe that’s where we need to head to. Manish?

1:01:53 S6: No, I just think it’s… If I were to respond to what employers should do, I think we already generate our own power. We provide our own transport. We manufacture our own employees. Now, you want us to entertain them. I mean, it’s a really high bar for being an entrepreneur in India. It’s really, really hard. People who pay salaries… I mean every enterprise is a social enterprise in India as long as it creates jobs. So I think this sort of outrage right now, if you wanted the poor should be less poor, you should have been outraged about formal jobs for the last 20 years. You should have been outraged about financialization for the last 20 years, you should have been outraged about urbanization.

1:02:31 S6: Corona attracts people with pre-existing conditions. India’s labour market is behaving exactly as it should have behaved in a crisis like this. We should have been outraged for 20 years for the lack of formalization, the lack of financialization, the lack of urbanization, the lack of skilling, and the lack of industrialization. So I don’t think economies behave differently in low tide than in high tide or in emergency situations than they do with that. So my simple, as a first generation entrepreneur, who has 394 inspections every six months, I mean, people should try being an entrepreneur in this country, because without employers, there are no employees. It’s just that simple.

1:03:17 S2: I’m gonna take to Ramani a question that actually, while I sought out all the audience questions, why it is very true what Manish says that there is so much regulation that we don’t even understand. And I often say that every time you wake up in India, you have already broken three laws because we have so many complex laws. Ramani on this question of the kind of regulation that all industries including yours undergoes, the recent removal of Captain Manivannan, and we read that the industry wanted him to move because he was on the side of labour so to speak. Is that true and how should we be looking at such things, very quickly please.

1:04:00 S5: I don’t think that is true, let me tell you. Captain Manivannan had been there. The fact is, what was the industry requesting for a change from the government? See, unfortunately, media never puts the right perspective. Now, whenever we get plans approved at the corporation level, we are paying crores of rupees as worker cess with the government of Karnataka through BBMP and BDA collect from us. Now, what did we tell them? There is some rule that they say they can give you 2,000 rupees. Now, what has been contributed by us, the city is holding 9,000 crores of rupees as welfare fund. All that we asked them was, “Okay, release 5,000 to every worker and we will give you their bank account details and their Aadhaar card details.” Was it asking too much?

1:04:52 S5: I think every industry wanted that. So the fact is you stuck to your guns saying, “I’ll pay 2,000. I won’t give you more.” Now, when there is money, what is the need of the hour? Why don’t you give it to the labour that needs the money which is stranded? The chief minister agreed with it. We had a meeting with the CM, CM agreed to that. He said, “Okay, we will do it.” In the meanwhile, the normal bureaucratic lobby that works in India said, “No, we can’t do this. This is not possible.” So I guess when you start annoying the chief minister, he decides, what next? I don’t think anybody… See, the same newspaper said that we went and stopped the trains. No, all that we said was, “Let the trains continue.” How much do the trains take? They take 1,500 people, and if everyone said that the builder lobby went to the CM and said, “Stop it. No way.” There were 10 trains that were assigned, 15,000 people would have gone, it doesn’t matter. But this is the season when they go. So actually Captain Manivannan, problem with him was, he could have been a little more understanding of the situation.

1:06:06 S2: Thank you. Do you think… Manish says that people will come back because they are being pushed back, right? From… There’s nothing there for them to stay back for. Do you feel that way that when the harvesting season is over like June, July, when they usually come back, do you think most people will come back or do you think even more people will come back to the cities?

1:06:27 S6: See, certainly, we’re not going to be bankrupt as far as the labour is concerned. We will find them coming back. Please understand, for them the employment is as important as the employer. So the labour will come back, but it is a trend. If you look at the last 20, 15 years in Bangalore, March, April, May June, you have lost 30% of the migrant labour that goes back and this time maybe 40% instead of 30. But they will all come back. And already those who… As I mentioned earlier, already those who went for Holi are already wanting to come back because there is nothing to hold them back in their hometown. See, right now it’s an emotional issue. They’ll deal with it. And they’ll come back in July, August. They’ll definitely come back. I’m not worried about the labour not coming back.

1:07:15 S2: Yeah. Manish, there’s a question to you about the lockdown. If the city continues in lockdown, will that be good, bad from the point of view of labour? Should it be lifted? What do you think should happen and what will happen? Is the lockdown currently about… Is the lockdown really serving only the elites?

1:07:38 S6: Absolutely. I mean only people who work with their minds can work from home. People who work with their hands and legs can’t work from home. So only 5% of India has broadband, so the notion that work from home is working for 95% of the people is delusional. And anyway, this once… There was a time, there were a few days, they were a few weeks where maybe a one-size-fits-all lockdown works. But we are all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. And you have to allow for that now across the country and I think that that’s happening. So I think that everything we do to murder the virus is murdering the economy. I guess that was right for 20 days, 40 days, 60 days, but anything… Right now it’s a skinned knee. Another month, it’ll be a broken leg. Beyond that, this is… So it absolutely is unsustainable. And yes, I think that it’s time for this one-size lockdown to go, and it is going.

1:08:32 S2: Okay, I’m gonna to come to all of you to come pull back and tell me, so please prepare, what are the three things that you think that the state should do so that the atmosphere is more hospitable for migrant labour which we need so desperately. But Manish, there’s also a question on judicial risk that all the kind of labour laws that are being loosened up so that the economy gets jigged, jobs are more freely available, etcetera, etcetera, do you there’s a sort of judicial risk that some courts will strike down some things and we’ll get into some kind of locked horns on some of these things? Manish, you’re on mute?

1:09:17 S6: Yeah. Yeah, I think that the debate has to be had. Reform is when the problem opportunity and the timing comes together. I think that labour reforms are, there is no right answer to it. There is a balance to be found. Of course, courts will be involved, but we’ve been in a low-level equilibrium for 50 years for 90% of our labour force. So my sense is, how do societies change? Have we not had a debate on labour reforms? I don’t think so we’ve had a debate for 25 years. I think courts may come in, but I think states will stand their ground, some of them. Some states will not do what UP has done, some will do what Maharashtra. We have to allow biodiversity. One-size-fits-all for a country like India. India can’t be run from Delhi. So it’s important for labour laws and land markets to be handed over to chief ministers. Some people think it’d be a race to the bottom. It could also be a race to the top. The lack of competition among states is one of the reasons why employers find it hard to have a factory with 100,000 people in India. There’s not a single factory in India with 100,000 people. There are more than 100 in China, because we would just never risk having 100,000 people in the same place.

1:10:33 S2: Tell me, is Bangalore a desired destination, because you work all around the country with TeamLease. Does Bangalore do better in terms of being inviting to labour, in terms of salaries, working conditions, social benefits or even coming public infra? How does it compare with other cities?

1:10:52 S6: No, the biggest genius of Bangalore is the difference between real wages and nominal wages, right? I mean, I had a kid in Gwalior a few years…

1:10:58 S2: Just explain that.

1:11:00 S6: I had a kid in Gwalior a few years ago tell me, “Give me 4,000 rupees in Gwalior, give me 6,000 rupees in Gurgaon, 10,000 rupees in Delhi and 18,000 rupees in Bombay. My bags are packed. Tell me where you want me to go.” I asked him, “Why do you want four times more money to go to Bombay?” He said, “Khaana, rehna, office jaana.” Living, eating, and commuting doesn’t work out. Bangalore is one of the few cities in India where the gap between real wages and nominal wages is massively reduced because you can live and die within 5 or 10 kilometers. You can’t do that in Bombay. So I think Bangalore’s… The most important part of Bangalore, it was the first electrified city, it has trees, it had an education cluster because of Visvesvaraya, it has the HAL because of Mirza Ismail, but the most important part of Bangalore is that the gap between real wages and nominal wages, because of living, eating, and commuting is low.

1:11:51 S2: Thank you. Divya, do want to respond to what Manish said and then also move quickly to talking about public infra that we need to focus on, such as low cost housing etcetera to make this a more migrant friendly city?

1:12:10 S4: Yeah, I’m not sure which point of what Manish said because he [1:12:13] ____.

1:12:14 S2: Well, the point of… The Bangalore is better because the real wages and the differential is not so bad as in other cities.

1:12:23 S4: Okay, I’m not sure I’m the right person to comment on it, but maybe I’ll just take your second question on what can the state do at the infrastructure level. I think for me the key is better housing and working conditions. Right now, our workers work and live in terrible conditions, so maybe that is something…

1:12:39 S2: Give me an example of when you say they work in terrible conditions, can you give a little data or a illustration?

1:12:45 S4: So Mr. Ramani’s talking about the great things developers are doing, but as Gayathri was suggesting, a lot of the builders are smaller or medium size. Safety measurements, for example, are not followed at all. There are no child care facilities on site and we know a lot of migrant workers move with their children. So some of these things, better living conditions, access to sanitation. I have been doing field work at the construction sites. I can tell you there are days when I haven’t used the toilet for eight hours because there are just no toilets for female workers at the construction site, and there might be a few builders who are doing a great job, but most aren’t, so I’m saying that gap is huge. So definitely…

1:13:21 S2: What about other industries as well because I don’t wanna focus only on construction because Ramani is here, what about garments? What about other industries?

1:13:28 S4: There are lot of researchers who also talked about the situation being very bad in garments. These are also industries that are timed in terms of the work you do, so every minute matters. There are a lot of news reports about [1:13:39] ____ especially female workers have specific needs. There are certain bodily cycles and we need to be aware of their needs at the work place. So definitely, housing and living conditions, I would say would be the top of the priority, access to healthcare. We know that a large number of workers suffer from things like TB. We know it’s a poor person’s problem, and we also know increasingly that a lot of workers have multiple comorbidities because of NCDs are on the rise. NCDs are not just a problem for the rich, but also increasingly a problem for the poor. So we need to be able to give them better health care conditions, so access to services. And just going back to that, I would say from a human rights perspective, having a better access to health care, but even from productivity, that’s the argument one wants to take. They just need to have access to better health care conditions and for that we need a good public health infrastructure and if anything, this COVID has taught us, it is that if we don’t have a good public infrastructure in place, healthcare is going to be a huge, huge issue as we go forward. So definitely health is the second biggest priority.

1:14:45 S2: Thank you. And that’s a very good important reminder because public health facilities, this is a public health emergency. And my husband was born in Vani Vilas Hospital. Now, today, I don’t know if the middle class would even go to a public hospital because of perhaps not having enough inclusive public healthcare facilities that would support everybody. Gayathri, what should the state focus on becoming… Yeah, go ahead, quickly.

1:15:12 S4: I have one more point. Just to sort of quickly respond to that point on, when I was talking about entertainment, I didn’t mean it purely in terms of entertainment [1:15:20] ____ employer.

1:15:20 S2: [1:15:20] ____.

1:15:21 S4: But I’m saying that we need to think of workers beyond bodies that are labouring. We need to think of them as people with multiple…

1:15:27 S2: Well being.

1:15:28 S4: And healthcare is one of the most important ones in that. And so we need to think of all the other things that we associate with people like us.

1:15:36 S2: Sure. Thank you. Gayathri, do you want to make some closing comments? Take two or three minutes, but anything we have not addressed that concerns you. And also, what should the state response be?

1:15:49 S3: So I think first is skilling. I think we need to democratize that. The vocational education has been monopolized by a very narrow definition of how it has to be. So for example, I can’t imagine my son being in a vocational… In any vocational trade, son or daughter as it happens. So I think we need to broad base that. And as I said…

1:16:16 S2: How do we do that though?

1:16:17 S3: Yeah, I think this is an opportunity that we have. Ramani briefly alluded to the CREDAI efforts that are there and we’ve been part of that efforts. Every work site has to become a educational ground. We need to…

1:16:35 S2: And we need to [1:16:35] ____ lots of paths that there are…

1:16:35 S3: Lots of paths. You have to take off the narrow way in which we’ve looked at education as only class. Vocation is dexterity, vocation is communication. So if that is there and how do you appreciate somebody’s experience? You cannot gain… I mean I cannot learn cooking on a cook show, right? That’s the difference between the things. So I think we need to look at those. The second, I think is… Sorry, I just need to mention this. Public infrastructure for women and sanitation is an issue for everybody. It’s you, me, it’s a migrant worker, everybody. So that’s a huge problem. But I also feel this could be something where the state has to look into health infrastructure and define it broadly. So a health infrastructure means electricity, water, you cannot run hospitals and clinics without it. So can you create sub-centers which have all of this? It’s not an employer responsibility. I think we need to divide between what the state needs to provide and what an employer needs to provide. Today, I think there was a cartoon I saw where the entrepreneur had four or five knives at the back and he’s bleeding. It’s one of these very cheap WhatsApp jokes. But at the same time, those are images which on both sides, you will create a divide. So I think the key is not to create a divide by either the state or by the employer or the worker, but how do you create that bonhomie?

1:18:05 S3: So today, as I was saying, my bigger fear really is, the fear mongering that we have created. Saying that [1:18:14] ____ wage, Y has not received the wage. Why has the migrant worker we have painted as one feet tall, right, the person who’s walking with scabs on the feet. But there are lots of nuances to it. It’s the loss of income, the loss of self-esteem. “I’ve not been earning.” So I think we need a re-haul, complete re-haul. And the other thing I feel is, Bangalore is a city, actually, Rohini, was like Mumbai that you were talking of. I grew up in the Cantonment area, where you could play on the roads. You could cycle up to your Vidhana Soudha easily. Can you imagine cycling through Vasanth Nagar now? I live in Jayanagar. Tilak Nagar is in the containment zone. Padarayanapura has gone into containment zone. What does it mean? That’s just showing you that the city grew in a manner which was not acceptable to its health.

1:19:21 S2: In fact, Gayathri, places like Malleswaram and Basavanagudi, etcetera, they were actually planned in response to the plague last century. So those kind of broad roads, a natural sort of de-congestion of the population was done as a result of the plague. And today…

1:19:38 S3: I completely agree. I mean, I live in Jayanagar and look at… I am sorry to say this, look at JP Nagar which is in containment zone there. Look at Bannerghatta road. We didn’t look at how urban space planning had to happen. So again, going back to your three hours, my mind would be, A, look at vocational education as it should be. Do not try and copy education. And the state has the power to do it. Do it at this point of time. Two is to look at… When you look at vocation, it’s not about vocational education. Vocation becomes very closely linked to wage. It’s a wage… The continuum is very less. If the continuum is less, then you need to look at productivity and wage. So you need to redefine the way in which wages are actually thought of today. The third would be is the health infrastructure. I believe… I’m not as optimistic as Ramani to say that everybody will come back. So I feel that the last two decades were about mobility. This next decade is about health infrastructure. So if it’s health infrastructure, it’s not about just a clinic, and a doctor, and a nurse and a phlebotomist. But it is about the electricity, the water, the space that you’re going to create. I think it’s that which is going to be the… Either, it’ll make us or break us. So let’s… If state is Santa Claus, my request would be that let’s focus on that and we got to do it together.

1:21:05 S2: Yeah, unfortunately, the state can’t be Santa Claus. Ramani, city planning, public infrastructure, making the city more friendly to migrants, but also more livable for everybody. Top three priorities, the state should focus on, especially thinking of this as a new opportunity.

1:21:23 S5: Well, the state must look at three things. Definitely, water is very important. Sanitation is as important if not more than the water. Number two, create clusters. Well, actually you don’t need to make them feel that they’re unwanted. Create clusters with social infrastructure, and even if it is… Even if it is state-funded and rented for these people, I am sure it will work, but the state has to do it or the state can allow others to do it provided you make the land acquisition norms simpler. You have to do that as far as these people are concerned, number one. Number two, on the health part, let me tell you the access to health in the last five, seven, eight years to everybody, forget the class of worker or the class that people come from, the access to health is available to each of them, all of them. Now, I’m not speaking for myself, but I’m speaking for all of us, not only in this profession, but everywhere. Now, today, it has become the order of the day that if your worker is not healthy, he is not going to be able to perform.

1:22:36 S5: And the other thing that Gayathri mentioned, today vocational training doesn’t give you, now if Gayathri or me, if I have to say my son came back home and he decided to be a mason. The first thing is society will look up to me and say, “What crap? What’s wrong with you?” The unfortunate part is the vocations don’t earn you the respect that you deserve in spite of the fact that you may be the best in the field. So you need to start getting everything included. I don’t need to be a tech person.

1:23:11 S2: What should the state do… What should the state do to achieve that?

1:23:13 S5: See, state has to just make enabling law., I don’t think the state has the mind or the brain…

1:23:18 S2: Enabling laws? Land reform, you were talking…

1:23:21 S5: Absolutely land reform.

1:23:22 S2: Yeah.

1:23:23 S5: Public health. When you say public health, all the services come in and medical help should be available to a certain… In that scheme of Pradhan Mantri whatever, he has done that scheme where he has got everybody below a particular income insured. In fact, we have gone one step ahead and asked all the developers to try and insure at least all the workers who are working for them, but because these are transient in nature, we have a larger policy that covers number of people working, but does not cover the individual if he is not on my site. So there’s got to be some kind of a mechanism that will give them the cover. If you give them security cover, that in terms of medical they’ll get what they need to get, social infrastructure, give them that, and give them a good living accommodation.

1:24:15 S2: Okay, Manish, your turn. You can take three to five minutes. I am requesting our viewers to put in more questions directed specifically to any of our panel because the questions are very, very general. I have tried to club some of them together. Manish, what can Bangalore learn from places like Kerala which really actually faced so much labour shortage and had to quickly figure out a way to be more welcoming? What can we learn? What are the best practices we can import and what should the state be doing?

1:24:48 S6: But Kerala is not exactly… I mean, Kerala is 10% Bihari because they sent 10% to the Middle East, so [laughter], I mean they had to bring 10%. So I think that… Yeah, so both are economic wastelands in some ways, right? I mean Kerala was hostile to their people before and then maybe Bihar is hostile to their people before. So the most important thing people can do is… In North India, my parents retired to Kanpur. The four fastest growing industries in Kanpur are private bottled water, private security, private generator and private schools. There is no state. So I think, we can’t… Entrepreneurs can’t substitute for the state and that is why those places are economic wastelands. So I think what… It’s very simple in my mind what the state can do; formalize, urbanize, industrialize, financialize and skill. Formalize is lets have 10%… Let’s have less than 10% of our labour force in non-firms working in informal now. That will take a combination of social security reform and labour law reform. We have to financialize. Our credit to GDP ratio has been stuck at 50%. It should be 100% because that is what will improve productivity.

1:25:52 S6: We need to industrialise. Only 55% of our labour force works in farms. As Arthur Lewis used to say, “The only way to help farmers is to have less of them.” And we need to skill obviously and not only just skill, we need to fix schools. I mean 265 lakh kids take the class 10th exam every year, 105 lakh fail. 160 lakh kids take the class 12th exam every year, 80 lakh fail. Of the 80 lakh who pass class 12th, 50 lakh go to college. So we need… And only 45 sometimes are…

1:26:22 S2: Yeah, children of migrant labour… Sorry to interrupt. When we think of the children of migrant labour in Bangalore, that non-access to education is truly frightening because they are coming from various places and they can’t study in their own languages. There are not enough, Ramani, places where there are proper pressures, etcetera, for the very young kids or any enabling infrastructure to take them to the schools, so you are very right, continue. The education thing is very important.

1:26:52 S6: Yeah, so education is fixing colleges and we’ve got to stop this thing about India having a specific problem with vocational training. Michael Spence got his Nobel Prize for social signalling value of education. It’s not a medical condition. It’s a human condition. And vocational training is for other people’s children, it’s not for our children. I mean, that’s a worldwide battle. It’s not unique to India. And finally, we just have to urbanize better. We can’t define urbanization as shoving more people into Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, 52 cities. We need 200 cities and more than a million people. So if we formalize, financialize, urbanize, industrialize, and skill, I think we will be on our way.

1:27:32 S2: Okay. Anybody wants to make some final comments because we are pretty much running out of time? Divya, do you want to make a final comment?

1:27:41 S4: I think one more thing I would add to the list is access to better food system, just in terms of having [1:27:47] ____.

1:27:47 S2: What do you mean by that? How do you create better access to food system?

1:27:52 S4: So we know there is the public distribution system at various levels, but we also need…

1:27:56 S2: It is much more portable. Yeah.

1:27:57 S4: It has to be portable. And because a lot of these migrants are not able to access it when they’re in the city, but we also want to remember that there are families where half the family has stayed back and just the worker has come to the city. So it needs to be a combination and it will take some time. We need to be able to experiment with different things, but to make the PDS portable, that’s absolutely important at this stage.

1:28:20 S2: We have three minutes left. Panel, can you say, do you think the city is going to… We realized the important of our labour when they couldn’t come. We have realized that the city cannot run without all the people, many of whom are migrants. Do you think we will have learnt any lessons at all? Gayathri?

1:28:41 S3: It’s a very nuanced no.

1:28:45 S2: It’s a…

1:28:46 S3: I would say it’s tough for us to learn because I don’t know… I don’t think we know where to start. I think that’s where the problem lies. It’s like an engine which has really not been able to move. So in my mind, we will try to move back to normality. We wouldn’t have learnt much from it. We would have all had pain, but that pain may not really result in much unless we act very swiftly. And when I meant Santa Claus there, I really mean that is that the state need not do everything itself. The state has to be liberating. It has to liberate people to do what it has to do, which I think it struggles with. It is a very mai-baap sarkar, you know? It gives money etcetera.

1:29:34 S2: And I think in the pandemic, the bureaucrats have seemed to have completely taken over control and some have accused them of even enjoying that and not wanting to let go now. So, yeah, any last point? Gayathri, I’m going to the other three.

1:29:51 S3: So I think for me, it’s a larger… As I said, one has to open up. Unless we open up and learn from this, we’re not gonna go very far and it could be on multiple issues, but the three points I made, I stand by. I think that’s where we need change.

1:30:05 S2: Ramani, do you think we’re gonna learn something about how to treat our migrants better?

1:30:10 S5: Well, as I…

1:30:12 S2: How do we begin?

1:30:14 S5: We have to… When they come back, if you can give them a better quality life, that I don’t know how, because like even Gayathri mentioned and so did Divya, that there are different levels at which the labour contractors are engaged with. There are different sets of people. One, I think, you’re gonna find probably the more skilled workers demanding more, which has already been on the negotiation for a while, but the government, basically, you need to look at the government to do three things for them. When they come back… I mean, I still feel Gayathri is not very sure and neither is Manish, but I’m clear that at least 80-90% of the labour will come back and when they come back, most of us would learn to treat them better. I’m sure the living conditions will improve and probably there will be a human touch to it. That’s all I can say at this point in time. I don’t know how we’re gonna look at it six months down the road, because what are the other conditions that is going to change on ground? I don’t think the government, which is showing so much of emotion today, will have any kind of a semblance of emotion once the lockdown goes and everyone’s back to normal, the government will start functioning the way it did.

1:31:27 S2: Thank you. Divya, because you also specialize in health, this pandemic has got all of our interests converged, right? We need everybody to be healthy so that we can be healthy. Do you think this is an opportunity that will improve the bargaining power of the migrant labourer and the way he lives or she lives and works? Is there going to be a shift in that bargaining power at all now when people start coming back and going back to work? And now, we’re running out of time, so quickly.

1:31:56 S4: Yeah, I absolutely hope it does, but I’m not super positive about it. I don’t know upto what extent it will happen. I also think the workers… The only reason we’re noticing our workers right now is because there is a pandemic. They’ve always had huge health issues like TB as I said before. It is a huge problem among the workers. And it requires a lot of care, because once you don’t… If you discontinue your treatment, you can keep going back, it can just keep worsening. So I don’t know. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to keep thinking about it, not forget it post the pandemic chaos is over. I’m not 100% positive that will happen, but I hope through conversations like this, through more media attention, we’re able to shake up the urban conscience a little more.

1:32:39 S2: Manish, I’m giving you the last word. Tell us, since you’re the eternal optimist, how are things going to change for the better in Bengaluru especially for the migrant labour because of what has happened in the last three months?

1:32:55 S6: I mean, of course, they will change. You can never step in the same river twice. It’s not the same Bangalore, it’s not the same employers, it’s not the same migrants. So everybody’s life in India in the last 20 years has gotten better than it was. It should have gotten much better if the regulatory cholesterol had gone, I have no doubts in my mind. But true beginning power for labour will only come when we run out of farm labour. Fundamentally, when you run out… You have to… The farm to non-farm transition in China, which took 300 million people off farms is what led to 27 minimum wage increases in the last 10 years. Arthur Louis, again, a Jamaican economist, his work on farm to non-farm transition applies directly to India. We need to move 240 million or 200 million, whatever the number is, off farms into non-farm employment and then the bargaining power of labour will change. If you have these 200 million people, who produce… 45% of our labour force only producing 15% of our GDP, they are vella, they are hanging out. They’re close to zero productivity and we need to move them to more productive jobs and then their bargaining power will increase substantially.

1:34:07 S2: Thank you, let’s hope for that. We have tried in this panel, Ravi, to get in the perspective of academia, of the migrants themselves, of industry, and of Manish… Someone like Manish who looks at the 360 degree view on this. I personally hope that the city can be looked into itself every one of us and recognize that the fate of the migrant and our own fate is so connected that we need to think and we have to begin from ourselves and we have to co-create the kind of governance we need, both for ourselves and all our migrants who are going to be coming in and who are already here. Ravi, thank you so much for this opportunity and over to you if you want to say any last words at all?

1:34:50 S1: Last words. So thank you, Rohini, for doing this. First, I’d like to thank all the panelists, Gayathri Vasudevan, Ramani Sastri, Divya Ravindranath, Manish Sabharwal, and Rohini Nilekani to put together this four mini series. For me the main take away at the end of the day is something that I think the combination of everyone speaking, “Can the state be an enabler?” I think that’s the big 800 pound gorilla, because they’re just not used to being an enabler. As Manish said, urbanization is inevitable. It’s coming our way, it’s going to happen, and hopefully, if that gives them more bargaining power, I think a lot of the employees is going to work. And we need increasing employment opportunities with a heart in the interim. I think that’s what how I would say this. For those on the call, thank you for being here, those on YouTube, thank you for watching this. Tomorrow, 6:30 PM, we have Climate-Smart Cities. So there is another looming one once the Corona business is over, which has not gone away, climate change. So we will be addressing that tomorrow. Thank you everybody and good night.

1:35:56 S2: Namaskara, thank you so much, everybody.

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