Lok Sabha elections: In Sonipat, jobs aplenty but infrastructure none

Built five years ago, the Kundli Industrial Estate has zero occupancy, as they were too costly and too small | Photo: Shreya Jai
As the nation debates unemployment in the election, in Sonipat in Haryana, industrial clusters are facing the opposite problem — a dire shortage of skilled and unskilled workers for micro, small, and medium enterprises. These industries fear that minimum income support schemes such as the Congress’ NYAY and the PM-KISAN will make the shortage even worse. 

“The labour from Haryana, Bihar, UP, have almost stopped coming to Sonipat. At least, skilled labour is avoiding this industrial area. Even if I am ready to pay much more than the minimum wage, the lack of supporting infrastructure in this city prevents them,” said R Devgun, owner of a plastic packaging unit in Rai Industrial Area (RIA).

Established in 2000, RIA is one of the newer industrial clusters in Sonipat, along with older ones in Kundli, Barhi and Ganaur. There are close to 13,000 registered industrial units in the Sonipat district.

“The industrial clusters lack basic facilities for workers such as subsidised housing, hospitals and transport. The government expects us to provide it all and we can but they should reduce our costs. In five years, the cost of land has increased ten-fold,” said A Manchanda, who has two manufacturing units in Sonipat.

Devgun acknowledged that the land auction has now become transparent under the BJP government with online procedures but said the land mafia participate in the auction and later sell land parcels at exorbitant rates.

At the Kundli Industrial Estate, a worker housing society built about five years ago lies rotting. It has zero occupancy. Workers claimed the houses, at Rs 13 lakh, were too costly and too small at no more than 10 square metres. The walls are now cracked and the ceilings damaged.

These clusters were awarded by the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) which is also responsible for their development. Industry owners claim HSIIDC is extremely slow in providing enabling infrastructure.

“Locals have constructed inhumane sized rooms to rent to workers. Most of them live there for lack of options,” said an executive with Kundli Industrial Association (KIA).

Subhash Gupta, also with KIA, concurred. “We are developing the green belt, cleaning the sewage, building a mess for the workers, even appointing our own private security, and running autos and what not,” said Gupta. 

Most of the industrial units in Kundli manufacture stainless steel and have more than 200,000 workers. Everyone’s gripe is the poor electricity supply, increased land costs and lease rates, the lack of basic amenities for workers, and the consequent worker shortage. 

“Who said there are no jobs? We want skilled labour. It’s mostly unskilled unemployed people who come here now. We train them but they leave as their whole wage is spent on just making ends meet. What is the HSIIDC doing about it? Nothing,” said Gupta.

KIA has been petitioning for a separate sub-station and a better power distribution network since 2011 but in vain. “Street lights are decoration it seems. HSIIDC can rent an alcohol shop inside industry premises but not fix electricity issues,” said a member of KIA.

Now a new problem stares them in the face: the election promises by the Congress of NYAY and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  PM-KISAN. They fear these will  worsen the labour shortage and turn out to be a redux of MNREGA which, when it was launched, caused a labour shortage spike.

“If you will get Rs 6,000-12,000 per month sitting at home, who will come out to work then? Someone says they will open government jobs. Here we are, waiting for workers and all we need is enabling infrastructure. If we had that, just see what lakhs of jobs this city alone will create,” said Gupta.

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