Agenda for Reforms: Four stories that show how policy shifts have touched individual lives

Jobs: Ready To Work

Even after a masters in commerce from Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut, 26-year-old Teetu Singh had no job prospects for months. Until April, when he came across GRAS Academy in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. GRAS, a vocational training institute , was offering a six-month course in basic accounting. Singh jumped at the chance to brush up his knowledge and at its promise of a job.

Last month, GRAS made good on its promise and placed Singh as an account executive at a warehouse of sports goods company Puma in Ghaziabad. Millions like Singh have the classroom knowledge and a degree, but are unemployable because they lack specialised and soft skills. A few million join them, year after year, dulling India’s ‘demographic advantage’.

But things are changing. The government is putting in place the pieces to train people in throngs in the age group of 18-35 years. Spearheading this effort is the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), which the government set up in 2009 to fund private entities—through loans, equity and grants—to impart hard and soft skills to young Indians for entry-level jobs. Its target: make 150 million people job-ready by 2022. “This is a demand-driven model and trainees are mandated by this system to get a job at the end of it,” says Dilip Chenoy, MD and CEO of NSDC.

Noida-based GRAS runs 42 centres in North India. It offers entry-level courses in several sectors, including IT, retail, construction and sales, and also imparts soft skills. Companies, too, benefit from this engagement: they get more numbers and better quality. “On an average, we recruit 40% of our employees from NSDC-partner centres,” says Ramesh Mitragotri, chief people officer at Aditya Birla Retail-More.

The courses, which are heavily subsidised, are primarily meant to draw candidates from underprivileged backgrounds. Teetu Singh, today, earns Rs 6,000 a month as an account executive. His family of five, including his parents and two younger brothers, were living off his father’s meagre salary of Rs 1,400 per month. “We were living hand to mouth and spent all that my father earned,” says Singh.

“With my income, we hope to start saving.” A big lacunae of the NSDC skills drive is that the institutes have not managed 100% placement. According to Tahsin Zahid, CEO of GRAS, it does 75% placement because students dropped out or were reluctant to relocate”. “It’s early days and the model is evolving,” says Madhav Chavan, founder of Pratham. Chenoy adds the NSDC is working to see what can be done to ensure 100% placement—and change more lives like Teetu Singh’s.

Labour: Fallback Work Option

Hunched over, and with her hands and feet covered in dirt, 34-yearold Ashamma works the fields of Andhra Pradesh’s most populous Ranga Reddy district, braving the elements from 10 am to 4 pm. It’s back-breaking work, but Ashamma has never been happier. Thanks to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, she now has guaranteed work for at least 100 days a year, and that too in her village, Akkampalle.

Although it has faced criticism—money is siphoned off, many projects don’t have an economic use —NREGS has made a discernible difference to the poor. “Landless labourers like Ashamma are the biggest beneficiaries as they need not go in search of work. Work comes to their doorstep,” says V Muraleedhar, independent consultant to NREGS and Ashamma’s supervisor.

Ashamma and her husband are able to earn about Rs 20,000 in three months from the scheme, adding to their income from other sources like construction work. Narasimhulu says they have repaid a moneylender. Last year, they paid Rs 5,000 to a farmer in the neighbouring village and leased an acre of land. “We can’t wait for our first crop,” says Ashamma. G Venkatesh, a senior additional programme officer, says the scheme has brought about other changes. “Migration of labour to other states has stopped and the confidence among villagers has gone up.”

Despite the scheme’s flaws, many poor households Andhra villages have one request of the government: double the number of days of guaranteed employment to 200. “It has made us land owners. What more do we need?” asks Narasimhulu.

Urban Renewal: A Breezy Ride

Vijay Kumar Gupta’s cost of commuting to work has doubled, but he is not complaining. It’s a small price to pay for the surety, convenience and timesaving a dedicated corridor for buses has brought to the lives of 130,000 citizens of Ahmedabad like him who ride it everyday. Partly financed by a Central programme that funds modernisation projects in cities, the Ahmedabad bus rapid transit system (BRTS), called ‘Janmarg’, is cited as a model urban transportation project.

“My schedule has become predictable now,” says the 35-year-old Gupta, who works in the marketing division of textile company Chiripal Group and has been a BRTS user since it started in 2009. No more does Gupta have to change two buses for his 15 km commute. He now knows a bus will come in intervals of 2.5 minutes and 6 minutes during peak hours and off peak hours, respectively. The buses are better.

A dedicated lane means the average speed of buses on the BRTS route has increased to 27-30 km per hour, from 16-17. Gupta’s travel time has halved to 30-35 minutes. “I am paying Rs 13 one way, which is twice of what I paid four years ago,” he says. “But I am able to save time, which is money.” The city saves on fuel, according to the Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL), the special purpose vehicle of the city’s municipal body implementing the project.

A recent survey done by it shows that 52% of BRTS users were earlier riding their own two-wheelers, 30-40% were using normal bus services and auto rickshaws, and 4-5 % were using cars. The Ahmedabad BRTS, which currently covers 51 km, is scheduled to extend to 89 km. The Ahmedabad BRTS is one of the 552 urban modernisation projects sanctioned by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)—35% of its Rs 1,200 crore project cost will come from the Centre.

These cover areas like water supply, sewerage, roads, and transportation systems, among others. As of July 2012, JNNURM, set up in 2005, had providing Rs 6,546 crore of funding to 146 projects. CEPT University’s HM Shivanand Swamy, who was involved in designing Janmarg, is upbeat about it. “Its size is ideal— it is scalable and viable, unlike in larger cities,” he says.

Kumar Manish, communications officer at Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, a not-for-profit working in sustainable transportation, says Ahmedabad, a city of 6.4 million people, is adding 600 new vehicles every day. The situation is no different in other cities. Public transportation systems like the BRTS can reduce pressure on the roads. Janmarg has done just that.
Suppliers: Bigger And Better

In 2004, Manish Khandwala was just another garment maker in the warren of bylanes in Kalbadevi in south Mumbai. Until, a chance visit by a Shoppers Stop executive opened a whole new set of opportunities for his then-fledgling business—Nandini Fashions. Khandwala had worked for a couple of years with Shoppers Stop, sending them yards of unstitched dress material, before an unscheduled stop by Shoppers Stop’s design team allowed him to think big.

After showcasing his range to the visiting team, Khandwala was upgraded to a supplier of ready-tostitch garments for its DIY (design it yourself) range the retailer was just rolling out. What started with one store in Andheri in Mumbai (followed by a couple more in the city) soon became a national rollout . More categories were addedincluding mix-and-match ethnic wear, jewellery and accessoriesas Nandini sought to piggyback its fortunes on the rapid rollout of Shoppers Stop’s nationwide chain of stores.

“We picked up many tricks of the trade from watching them up close,” says Khandwala. “We’re now looking to replicate those in our business.” Access to Shoppers Stop, and consequently more retailers, has helped Nandini grow 10-fold , from Rs 4 crore in 2004 to around Rs 40 crore today, says Khandwala. He has spent the past few years tuning up his factories—with quality certifications , better facilities for workers and better machineryand could see another spike as foreign retailers consider the pros and cons of a full-fledged investment.

Khandwala is a showcase for small traders and farmers looking to hitch a ride on the retail bandwagon. Bypassing unscrupulous middlemen, lower overheads and the opportunity to reach distant markets are all good reasons for small traders and farmers to welcome greater foreign direct investment in retail, including for the first time in multi-brand retail. Yogesh Gajan Tadkari, who has a four-acre farm in Naraingaon near Pune, has experienced these benefits firsthand.

In the past eight months, his trips to wholesale marts in Mumbai and Pune have fallen to a trickle. Instead, he looks forward to the weekly pick up by a Bharti Walmart vehicle. “This is a more profitable and easier route to take my vegetables to the market,” he says. Tadkari had to earlier pay his labourers Rs 200 a day to move his produce to the market and Rs 70 or 80 per trip to ferry it to local markets.

Much of those costs have now been cut out. “I am paid in eight days, directly to my account,” he says, adding that a few of his peers have set up an informal collective to pitch better to large retailers.

Source: The Economic Times



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