Those who claim that welfare schemes ought to prevent the migration of workers from rural areas are promoting dependency and idleness and destroying the work ethic.

The Indian Government is to spend Rs 88,000 crore on rural development this year. About Rs 40,000 crore is under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Act (NREGA). Government spokesmen and media fed by the government are asserting that the NREGA and some other schemes are meant to stop migration of workers from rural areas. This aim is irrational and is against historical experience.

If there were no migrations from overcrowded Europe to the newly discovered Australia and America, Europe would have been pauperised and the world would have been less prosperous without the wealth of these two continents.

The less prosperous Spanish-speaking South American workers are migrating to the US, thus satisfying the need for manual workers in that country. A few million skilled persons, such as electricians, masons, carpenters, fitters, plumbers, welders, drivers and construction workers from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu are working in the Gulf countries.

If these people did not migrate to where work is, they could not have been fed and housed and uplifted here in India. It is their remittances that are adding to the prosperity of families at home.

State to state

Lakhs of Indian engineers and other professionals too are migrating to the US and some other developed countries in search of jobs. Their remittances are helping India. The skills of the returning people add to the talent pool in India.

Punjab's agriculture will wither if workers from Bihar do not migrate to that state. Within Andhra Pradesh, farm workers migrate from one district to another for so many agriculture operations, such as transplanting and harvesting.

Tens of thousands of men and women involved in physical labour are migrating from Srikakulam and Prakasam districts into the construction works in Hyderabad.

So many educated people and entrepreneurs migrate from one State to another, from one country to another, for full and better utilisation of their talents.

Encouraging the educated to migrate and confining the unskilled labourers to the village may ensure garnering votes of the poor.

Good money, wasteful use

Migration is an historical phenomenon. It can be seasonal, for short periods or permanent. Any scheme that is designed to contain India's rural population in the village of their birth itself is a retrograde step.

Villages cannot sustain so many unskilled labourers and not-so-literate labour. By creating useless “work” we are promoting dependency among the unfortunate rural, illiterate and unskilled population. This is, indeed, a social crime.

An example of the village Angaluru in Krishna district will illustrate how good money is being thrown away for bad results. Out of 1,000 families, 800 had registered themselves as BPL, seeking work under NREGA. So far, it was 100 days at Rs. 100 per day. Even at this, 80,000 mandays of useful work in a year is impossible in a village and that too, year after year.

The result is, wages for agricultural labour have gone up by 2.5 times and agriculture is becoming increasingly unviable. Farmers feel that it is better to sell the land and put that money a bank FD.

For instance, one acre of agriculture land sells at a minimum Rs 10 lakh. If this is sold and the money is put in an FD, the annual return is Rs 90,000. By cultivating that land, no farmer gets more than Rs 10,000-15,000 in a year. What incentive is there for cultivation?

Those who are registered for NREGA are mustered just for attendance and since there is no work to be done they go home, thus paid for no or little work.

This easily obtained money is spent largely on liquor: Rs15,000 crore per year worth of liquor is being sold in Andhra Pradesh. One can guess where the NREGA money is going. This is a social crime.

Welfare ethic, no work ethic

We are promoting dependency and idleness and destroying the work ethic; promoting, instead, the welfare ethic. It is estimated that excluding the subsidy on fertilisers, Rs 4 lakh crore of subsidies and throwaways such as pension for the old are spent under welfare. And 85 per cent of that is, every year, turning into black money, shared by government servants, business men and politicians. More the welfare, more the black money, and greater the destruction of the work ethic.

In the pursuit of power, winning elections by spending huge sums has become necessary. These sums can be generated by the vast amounts of money spent on “welfare”.

The discourse about welfare and the trickle that reaches the poor — they get the crumbs — acts as an opium for the political class.

For whom politics is the profession and government power is the goal, welfare and the poor are the enablers. Welfare spending for the poor cannot be criticised on moral grounds. It can be shown to be the instrument for aggrandisement by a few.

We are not building an egalitarian society. Wealth is being created by the educated and enterprising. Much of it is accruing to politicians in power and their businessmen cronies getting at the levers of power.

This is not good for the country. Ignoble people are choosing politics as the least risky profession to get government power and using it for accumulation of wealth, keeping the poor opiated by trickles of welfare.

( The author is Chairman, Pragna Bharati, Andhra Pradesh.)

(This article was published on December 23, 2011)
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