BANGALORE: Even as the city is grappling with acute water shortage, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board’s (BWSSB) reponse to any query on this subject is: Cauvery 4th Stage, II phase. And the reason for the delay in completion of this project, which aims to lay yet another pipeline from TG Halli reservoir to divert water from River Cauvery to Bangalore, is labour shortage.
Through 2011, Minister Suresh Kumar and the then chairperson for BWSSB, P B Ramamurthy, assured reporters that this ambitious project that started in 2009 will address water scarcity by supplying 500 million litres of water per day (MLD). However, last July, the project almost came to a standstill as the contractors were working with a depleted work force, especially skilled labourers. Chief Engineer for the Cauvery project Narayan said that skilled labourers were those who specialise in aspects of construction like electrical, mechanical or carpentry. While unskilled labourers were those who help in transport of materials among other things.
BWSSB tried seeking additional labour personnel from Public Works Department and Karnataka State Police Housing Corporation. They helped, but only temporarily.
The foremost problem is that of wages. “The skilled laboureres get paid anywhere from `350 up to `600 depending on their individual skill,” explained Narayanan. However, the workers contradicted that. “We have to pay the contractor a percentage of our wages to get jobs. So, what we get in hand in very less,” said a worker in Hindi. The various builders’ and contractors’ associations demanded nearly 175 per cent hike in the existing wages of the labourers to supply skilled labourers. That came up to `650 per day. BWSSB’s contractors were reluctant to pay as it escalated approved and projected costs that forced them to look towards North for hiring.
This led to a problem of a differnt kind. “Since most labourers were from Northern states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakand, they work for two months at a stretch and then take off for one month. Sometimes, they return and sometimes they do not,” said Narayan. Labourers however said that while the working conditions defferred from contract to contract, nothing compared to the living condictions of the majority in the country. “My child is born here.
Now, my relatives tell me that there is enough work in my state and I want to go back. I realise that if my children get education, then they can lead their lives differently,” explained Sahu, who worked in Arohalli.
Migratory patten, which worked to the advantage of the system, is breaking down but the Government and its various agencies have no long-term plans to tackle the situation.
Or they come up with stop-gap solutions without thinking through its impact. For example, last year, (BWSSB) decided to hold job fairs at Malavalli and Kanakapura to recruit labourers and train them with the help of local training institutes.
The Confederation of Real Estates Developers of Association of India (CREDAI) even supposedly came forward to set up a training institute, but the project never took off.
“In the future, we have to ensure that all projects commissioned by BWSSB use meachanised process and are not labour intensive. Labour shortage is only going to worsen in the future. Another option is to use the one per cent welfare cess collected by the Government from the contractors to train unskilled labourers and meet the shortage,” said Narayan, who has now been dealing with the issue for over three years.