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Gujarat’s urban and rural working people earn poorer wages than other states: NSSO

By Rajiv Shah 
The latest National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) figures, released recently by India’s most powerful statistical body, has once again reiterated the long-standing view that Gujarat’s salaried classes as well as casual workers earn much less the all-India average, in fact most other Indian states. Whether it urban areas or rural areas, the NSSO has found that things are not very different for Gujarat. While rural regular wage earners and salaried employees make up not a very big percentage of the working population in Gujarat, the survey, which was carried out over two years, 2011 and 2012, suggests that rural Gujarat’s regular wage earners and salaried employees, on an average, earned Rs 254 per day, as against the all-India average of Rs 298.96. Several “backward” states were found to be performing better in their respective rural areas — Bihar (Rs 411.82), Assam (Rs 302.22), Rajasthan (Rs 305.59), Uttar Pradesh (Rs 276.13), Jharkhand (Rs 478.61). In fact, the survey shows that regular wages and salaries in rural areas were higher in as many as 14 out of 20 major states compared to Gujarat.
The NSSO data further suggest that the situation for regular wage earners and salaried classes in the state’s urban areas earn is, shockingly, worst than all Indian states. This group forms the bulk of the urban working people, and the data are particularly significant for a state which has lately experienced the highest pace of urbanization. In fact, as against the all-India average per day earning of this group in urban areas of Rs 449.65 per day, the average payment in Gujarat was found to be just Rs 319.71. One can only compare where Gujarat stands vis-à-vis so-called Bimaru states – in Bihar, the average regular wage per day was Rs 412.24, in Chhattisgarh Rs 322.84, in Assam Rs 606.96, in Madhya Pradesh Rs 436.12, in Odisha 431.66, in Rajasthan Rs 416.54, and in Uttar Pradesh Rs 482.87. Regular wages and salaries in “comparable states” are — Maharashtra Rs 485.72, Andhra Pradesh Rs 395.35, Karnataka Rs 486.92, Haryana Rs 776.85, Punjab Rs 361.75, and Tamil Nadu Rs 389.81.
Coming to the casual workers, earnings in Gujarat are found to be equally bad. First the rural areas, where casualisation has taken place on a massive scale and small and marginal farmers are increasingly turning into wage earners. In the rural areas, the NSSO survey has found, the casual workers’ wage – on an average – is Rs 112.84, as against the all-India average of Rs 138.62. In fact, here Gujarat is worse than all states except two — Chhattisgarh (Rs 83.85) and Madhya Pradesh (Rs 105.22). The earning of casual workers was found to be the highest in Kerala – Rs 314.88, which is almost three times that of Gujarat. The situation was found to be equally bad in the urban areas, where average casual wage per day in Gujarat was found to be Rs 144.52, which is, again, worse than all other states but four, Chhattisgarh, where it is Rs 106.16, Madhya Pradesh Rs 125.89, Uttar Pradesh Rs 143.20 and West Bengal Rs 128.24. In casual labour in urban areas, again, Kerala topped the list with Rs 309.90 per day on an average.
Poor wages in urban areas – both of regular workers and of casual workers – should serve as a grim reminder to those who go ga-ga over Gujarat’s urbanization pace, which is the highest in the country compared to any state. According to the 2011 Census, 42.6 per cent of Gujarat’s population lives in urban areas, as against 37 per cent in 2001, making the state one of the fastest growing urbanized states in the country, fast catching up with Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Yet, the fact is, urban poverty has failed to come down in any drastic way. In fact, the percentage of fall in urban poverty in Gujarat during the second half of the decade ending 2010 was a mere 2.2 per cent, from 20.1 per cent to 17.9 per cent, which comes to just about 0.44 per cent per annum.
Notably, this was lower than a dozen out of 20 major states, including Madhya Pradesh, which saw a whopping 12.2 per cent reduction in urban poverty, followed by Odisha (11.7), Rajasthan (9.8), Maharashtra (7.3), Tamil Nadu (6.9), Karnataka (6.3), Kerala (6.3), Andhra Pradesh (5.7), Chhattisgarh (4.6), Bihar (4.3), Uttar Pradesh (2.4) and West Bengal (2.4). The all-India average percentage of urban poverty reduction during the second half of 2000s was 4.6. Clearly, huge investments and a high growth rate have not appear to have helped Gujarat’s downtrodden sections in any way. If experts such as Prof Ghanshyam Shah are to be believed, poor wages — the main reason for poverty in urban Gujarat — suggest failure on the part of the working people to collectively bargain for their wages. It is also a reflection of the poor state of trade unions and employees’ associations in the state. Other experts such as Prof Sebestian Morris of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, also the point out that one reason why Gujarat economy has been able to grow at a faster than the all-India average is, by keeping wages dormant.
Even a top lobbyist of the Gujarat chief minister, economist Bibek Debroy, in his book “Gujarat: Governance for Growth and Development” has admitted in his book that, in absolute terms, the number or urban poor in Gujarat has gone up 4.3 million in 2004-05 and 4.5 million in 2009-10. Fast rate of urbanization has failed to improve the state’s social sector index in any way. A government document of the Chintan Shibir, a bureaucratic conclave, of 2011, records the following as a fact: “While nutrition indicators appear worse in rural areas (48 per cent) compared to urban areas (39 per cent), the urban poor are at an equivalent disadvantage compared to rural populace and much worse than their affluent urban neighbours… Among urban poor, under-five under-nutrition is 56 per cent against 36 per cent among urban non-poor.”
Poor wages in Gujarat go hand-in-hand with a huge gender gap in wage earnings. While there is not much of a difference between the male and female wages of rural casual labour (it is Rs 115.77 for males against Rs 104.96 for females), in the urban areas the gap is rather high. The average male casual workers’ wage in the survey was found to be Rs 160.64, as against the average female wage of just about Rs 88.84! The same is the situation for the regular wage earners – if in the rural areas it was found to be Rs 268.69 for males and Rs 173.13 for females, in the urban areas it was Rs 326.34 for males and Rs 271.86 for the females. Of course, this is not at all Gujarat specific, yet the fact is, Gujarat’s females are one of the worst earners of wages compared to most Indian states.

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