June 14, 2011

Digging holes

Phirturam has what looks like a credit card in his hand. It has his photo, a magnetic strip on the back, electrical contacts of some kind, and a series of digits at the bottom. It also says "Dena Bank" on top. But this is not a credit card. It is the key to accessing his wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. The money is credited to this account in Dena Bank, and he can use this card in an ATM to withdraw money from the account.

Only, there's no ATM in his village, Kamtha in Chhattisgarh.

Still, he can trek to Dalli, about 6-7 km distant, and use the card at one of the ATMs there; probably no Dena Bank, but it doesn't matter.

Tomorrow is the last day this year that Phirturam will work under the employment guarantee scheme. He has been digging out a tank near Kamtha. Every day he has to dig a 12ft by 12ft square, 1 foot deep. For this, he gets paid Rs 122. But no more for the rest of the year.

What happens now, what kind of work will you do? I ask him.

Farm work, he says, tersely.

You have your own land? I ask.

No, I'll work as labour on somebody else's land. Some farmer in the village, needs some work done, he'll call me.

And what will you get paid? I ask.

Rs 50 or 60 a day.

And you'll work every day? I ask.

He laughs. No, not every day. Two, maybe three days a week.

In his home, the only other earning member is Phirturam's brother, who also works like this. So between them, they'll bring home something like Rs 350 a week. Call it Rs 1400 a month. I'm struck by that figure, because just before I graduated from my engineering college, I struggled through a campus interview and was offered a job by the company.

They offered me Rs 1100 a month.

Thirty years later, two men together earn just a little more than that and it has to take care of half a dozen people in the family, including Phirturam's 11 year-old son who is just getting over a fourth bout of malaria.

Yes, I too might go dig holes for the Government, to pocket a few dozen daily pay packets of Rs 122.


Jai_C said...

Is there a mistake in there somewhere?

Rs.122 per day x 6days per week x4 weeks x 2 persons comes to rs.5856

122 per day lines up with the numbers i found in this report:

from the report kerala for example pays a higher wage but since costs are higher purchasing power may be abt the same.


Debanish said...


Dilip D'Souza said...

Rs 122 is the payment under the NREG. Only for a fixed number of days a year, and today (15th) was his last day.

After today, he goes back to farm labour work, getting paid Rs 50-60/day for 2-3 days a week. These are the numbers I used to come up with the Rs 1400 figure.

Suresh said...

It is interesting that while there is a shortage of work on the one hand, there seems to be a shortage of labour on the other: see here.

I don't pretend to understand what is going on. It is true that becoming a migrant worker is problematic in more ways than one. It doesn't pay a lot but it is not trivial either for families who have no land or labour skills that they can market.

It is striking that most of the migrant labour seems to be from Bihar. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that as poor as Chhattisgarh is, Bihar is even poorer. According to this table (pdf format) Chhattisgarh's per capita income in 2005-06 was Rs. 20151 while Bihar's was Rs. 7875! (Punjab's per capita income, by comparison, was Rs. 36759.)

The next time you are in Chhattisgarh, perhaps you could ask Phirturam (or anyone else) whether they know of anyone who goes to places like Punjab to work? Would they be interested?

I also think that your point will be stronger if you focus on health indicators instead of the money earned. What is Phirturam's weight? Height to Weight ratio? The health indicators of his family members especially the females? How often do they go without food? What do they do when they fall sick? and so on. A few photos would be welcome too. (Ramani, whose blog you link to, uses them in an excellent manner.)

Anonymous said...

So why/when would you go to work to dig holes? I didn't get the connection.

Sumedha said...

I just spent a couple of weeks in several villages in Rajasthan, talking to people about NREGA and other matters. In all 12 villages, not a single person I talked to had gotten their full wages under NREGA... the amounts varied from as low as Rs. 13 for a day's work to about Rs. 90, instead of the Rs. 119 that Rajasthani NREGA workers are supposed to get.

And on top of that, several villages haven't had any NREGA work for nearly two years now. Some villagers blame the Sachiv.. he takes all the money that comes to buy materials and then "cancels" the jobs.

I'd thought that the case would be similar in other states too - it's good to know that NREGA is working in at least one village.

The villages I went to faced the same problem regarding banks.. all far away, on routes that buses and tempos do not frequent, leaving the villagers with the only option of walking. In some cases, the bank officials take a cut out of the NREGA money (or any other money) that does come through.

Sharecropping, labour on others' fields and houses, growing food on the tiny bits of self-owned lands, NREGA (when its available) - I was struck by the extreme lack of options available to people in the villages, many struggling simply to survive.

Vincent said...

This is sad. Even sadder is the fact that many of those with the card had to pay a bribe in advance to get the card. The whole NREGA scheme is soaked in corruption and the corruption is by design. In fact, the NREGA scheme was conceived with the idea of the ruling class making money.

A Chrysanthemum by any other name... said...

Another good measure is to look at the consumption of FMCG goods and how it has increased in the household vs time. It is true that there are vast number of ppl who live in poverty, but it is also true that things are improving going by the increase in consumption and uptrading of FMCG products in rural areas.