Manipur home returnees, unemployment and ILPS

Lunsieh Kipgen, IPS
At least fifty thousand natives of Manipur state have returned from various parts of the country to their home state in the wake of covid-19 pandemic. A large chunk of these home returnees are said to have been working in unorganised and semi-organised sectors in different parts of the country.  They are not migrant labourers working in factories/industries or in the agriculture sector. They earn wages relatively better than the migrant workers whose exodus from cities to their native states too has been witnessed in the wake of the country wide lockdown. Once thrown out of job the working force have no option but to return to their home. Unemployment rate in India and elsewhere is already a big problem. Manipur is no exception. Insurgency in the state is already linked to unemployment problem. Manipur has got a name as home to a large number of armed militant groups. The irony with Manipur is that despite covid scare and implementation of the Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) in the state the influx of non locals from mainland India continue to be unabated thereby indirectly depriving the natives (locals) of employment opportunities in the process and draining the state’s money unnoticed.
The bulk of Manipur home returnees are from the age group between 20 and 40. Those in government service or working in organised sectors could work from home and so they never formed a part of the train loads home returnee group. Most of these returnees are in their prime youth and would fit in most of the physical strength demanding employment and earning sectors such as construction works requiring skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour. In cities these home returnees are said to be employed in less physical strength requirement jobs like private security guards, staff jobs in hotel, restaurant, shopping malls and tourism sectors. Some more educated groups with knowledge of English language and computer reportedly worked in call centres of the corporate world, etc. These youths earn wages/salaries enough at least for their own sustenance and maintenance. Even some of them save part of their income to support their relatives back home or a sibling studying and staying with them in the cities. The problem with them now is that most of them may not like to be engaged in agriculture or construction sectors after returning to their home state. The sudden change of life style from city to village/small town would certainly create imbalance. The sense of frustration with job lost must have contributed to the recent inmate unrest witnessed in several Institutional and Community Quarantine centres where home returnees are lodged for a required period. 
Around forty thousand and even more non locals from mainland India are engaged in different employment avenues in Manipur at a time. They are engaged in different trades ranging from barber, cobbler and cart puller to construction workers and small time businesses. They are seen engaged in different construction activities and petty businesses even in the rural villages of the state. The non locals here stay in rented houses, work and earn. They never come here to buy land and settle permanently. They remit the money they earned from here to their families in their home states. They go home once a while to visit their families carrying with them cash they have saved over a period of time.
Since the locals are not willing to work in many types of menial jobs the non locals cannot be blamed for coming into the state and earning in areas of work where locals are not engaged. In fact the locals should be thankful to the non locals for coming and doing things they (locals) don’t have the skill or the will to do. But it is simply inexcusable for the local youths to leave a vacuum in the blue collared jobs and crib about absence of working and earning avenues. The local unemployed youths are big potential income earners in the more “dignified” jobs like construction sector requiring unskilled, semi skilled and skilled labour. Masonry, carpentry, tiles work, plumbing work, electrical fitting, painting works, petty shop keeping, etc. are huge employment avenues and reasonably high income earning avenues in the state. The local unemployed youths including home returnees can certainly be absorbed in these areas of employment. When these employment opportunities are captured mostly by the non locals we are shouting our voice hoarse for ILPS. Skills and semi skills can be acquired over a short period of time. It is just our wrong mentality and absence sense of dignity of labour that prevents us from taking up trades which can provide a decent living.
The introduction of ILPS in the state from first January 2020 was a long cherished dream fulfilled for Manipur. Its main objective is to deny unhindered and unregulated entry of non locals from mainland India into the state so that they don’t deprive the natives of their land, employment opportunities and income. The state government had collected a sum of Rs. 100,00,000 (one crore) revenue from seven ILPS check gates in a span of one and a half months starting from the first date of ILPS implementation on January 1, 2020. This is reasonably a big revenue amount. Around 33,500 ILPS passes were issued during this period. The ILPS revenue collection rate would of course fluctuate as fresh pass costs more and renewal rate less. The fresh passes were issued not only from border gates but also in various valley district concerned offices to those who were already here.
But then revenue consideration is never the reason for ILPS demand for years. Its primary objective as stated earlier is to prevent smarming of non locals in the state which could eventually create socio-eco-politico-cultural and demographic imbalance. If over thirty thousand ILPS passes could be issued in less than two months then the number of non locals present in the state could well just be imagined. Non locals continue to pour in even during this covid lockdown has irked valley based pressure groups including the JCILPS. The continued incoming of non locals is possible as construction related works are exempted from the lockdown.
Manipur is considered a good earning destination by non locals from mainland India. The presence of a large number of non local work force never make labour cheap either. In fact these migrant workers are exploiting the locals for their (locals) laziness and unwillingness to do certain type of works. Through an interview conducted, it is gathered that a non local ‘head mistry’ in masonry and plumbing works here earns handsome income as a local government contractor. The ‘head mistry’ identifies a contract work in construction field and through a phone call brings in the number of required skilled and unskilled workers from outside the state. He arranges rental rooms for his employees, procures provisions for them and guides them in their work sites without himself doing any physical work. The profit he earns in private construction contracts is to the tune of several lakhs of rupees per month.  In plumbing works, a head mistry contractor on an average earns a profit margin of Rs, 4000/- to 5000/- in a three to four hours work where he would take two to three labourers for a small repairing work after paying them (labourers) around Rs, 600/- to 700/- wage each for the less than half a day’s repair work. To be contd
The writer is Inspector General of Police, Manipur