Workers, The Makers of a Nation and the World! – ActionAid India
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Workers, The Makers of a Nation and the World!

Author: Indu Prakash Singh
Posted on: Sunday, 1st May 2016




And those engaged in the informal or unorganised sector — without any service rule, regular work provision, proper work timing, and social protection such as housing, pension and health coverage. They comprise about 94% of the total workforce, but they don’t celebrate the World Labour Day.

Nations wouldn’t have been built if workers were not there. Have buildings come on their own? Have homes for the elite come on their own? What an irony – those who build homes of others are rendered homeless, forced to sleep on the city footpaths or in informal settlements. Why?

Many of the planners and even eminent judges blame migrant workers for the problems of the city. They dare the migrants: Who invited you to the city? Who told you to come and stay anywhere? Tomorrow you will come and stay in Supreme Court and say it’s yours? You will go to your Counsel’s house and say, that’s yours?

While putting up these unsavoury questions, they forget that for the migrants to come to any city, the government is responsible. It is the rural distress, powered by lack of employment and mushrooming poverty, that force them to migrate to cities with a hope to earn some kind of livelihood. How can one blame the migrants? If they won’t come to a city, where will they go?

In my over three decades of work in both rural and urban areas of the country, I haven’t come across a single person who had come to a city for a house. But our Governments and bureaucrats think otherwise. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY – Housing For All, 2022) says it audaciously in Para 8.3: “State/ Cities will undertake a demand survey through suitable means for assessing the actual demand of housing. While validating demand survey, States/Cities should consider possible temporary migration from rural areas to the city just to take advantage of housing scheme and exclude such migrants from list of beneficiaries.”

Why would one leave one’s home in the village, social moorings (if its strong), that too for a house, which remains elusive for millions of people belonging to the economically weaker section ( EWS) or those from the lower income groups (LIG) in urban areas. That too to live in slums and the killer foot paths of a city. It seems our policy framers are far removed from the ground realities.

Interestingly, when I read out this paragraph during a meeting of National Forum for Single Women’s Rights on 28th Oct 2015, the director of Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), who was present there, said the paragraph got inserted into the policy at the very last minute. I asked the official to get it removed for it smacks of total ignorance and makes a travesty of poverty.

Already there is a deficit of over 24.7 million houses in the urban areas, as per the governments own data. The deficit of housing for people in the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and the Lower Income Group (LIG) is about 99%. As a follow-up of the Global Shelter Strategy (GSS), National Housing Policy (NHP) was announced in 1988. The long term goal of the NHP was to “eradicate homelessness, improve the housing conditions of the inadequately housed and provide a minimum level of basic services and amenities to all. The role of Government was conceived as a provider for the poorest and vulnerable sections, and as a facilitator for other income groups and private sector by the removal of constraints and the increased supply of land and services.” The government seems to have forgot its former role.

One wonders if the Constitution of India applies to the workers of the informal sector. Despite so many salutary labour legislations being there, not one is implemented to its fullest, in spirit and word . To top it, the Government has recently come up with the Labour Code and Industrial Code, diluting further the pro-labour provisions in these legislations.

How can a nation progress when 94% of its labour force continues to be in the informal sector? To make matters worse even in the formal sector, informalisation is being injected. Positions are being made contractual and/or being hived off / outsourced to private HR companies / contractors etc.

The Acting Chief Justice of Patna High Court, Justice I. A, Ansari, aptly notes, “Because of not being organised, the workers of the unorganised sectors are not being paid even minimum wages by their employers … They work as domestic help and, sometimes remain self employed as rickshaw-puller, auto rickshaw-drivers, coolie (i.e., porter), etc. Their work is not of permanent nature. In the field of agriculture, they have employment of only 3 to 4 months. Due to uncertainty of employment, they have to change their places of residence in search of jobs, making it more difficult for their family to survive. Consequently, studies of their children suffer. In the cities they live in, the arrangements of proper housing and sanitation do not exist…”

He further adds, “In such a situation, the responsibility of Government and Constitutional institutions become more important in empowering them by informing them of their rights and also, at the same time, apprising them of their duties.”

If workers suffer and willful defaulters are allowed to escape with over Rs 9000 crores of public money, is there any semblance of justice? Why are corporates allowed to gobble up profits than it percolating to the masses? A nation prospers when the purchasing power of its people deepens and spreads. It’s plain economics. The ones’ who contribute 50% to the country’s GDP deserve a better share in the India’s growth, which has till now bypassed the workers of the informal sector.

More informalisation means more penury, more exploitation, more brazen violation of human rights, unprotected work conditions, more compromised safety issues of women, excessive extraction of human labour for private gains and profits. Working People’s Charter (WPC), steered by the labour collectives and groups, is a significant process, adding voice to a sector that has been quite scattered and divided.

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike.

Time, that 1st May needs to be celebrated daily! Do we allow the MARKET to supersede the Constitution of India? Will the Hon’ble High Courts and the Supreme Court of India take suo moto cognisance of this severe dislocation of lives and livelihoods of the CityMakers and NationMakers?

Is anyone listening?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation. Indu Prakash Singh leads the Urban Knowledge Activist Hub (CiRiC) at ActionAid India. You can write to him at