As efforts are made to bring the millions of migrant workers back to factories that power our economy, the paradox of states putting up policy pickets and trying to ring-fence jobs for locals is simultaneously playing out.
Consequently, while industrialists hire cars and buses and book seats on trains, and even planes, to fetch their workers from faraway corners of the country, the employment field for migrants is shrinking. Since 2019, at least five states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and MP — have announced or approved reservation for locals both in government jobs and private industrial units. There are also others like Goa and Himachal Pradesh that encourage employment of locals through incentives to industries.
Haryana’s reservation plan is the latest, with deputy CM Dushyant Chautala announcing on Friday that the government will introduce a bill in the assembly to give 75% reservation in private sector jobs to the state’s youth. The promise was made by Chautala during the 2019 assembly election campaign and an ordinance to the effect was approved by the Haryana cabinet last month.

Earlier this week, Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that only “children of Madhya Pradesh” would henceforth be eligible for state government jobs. And while the pandemic’s impact on such policies — after the unprecedented upheaval it has caused in the job market — remains to be seen, there is the political factor.
Madhya Pradesh is heading into byelections for 27 assembly seats and Chouhan’s announcement met with no opposition from his chief rival and predecessor Kamal Nath, who had, during his stint, said 70% reservation would be given to locals in private sector jobs. “At last, you have woken up to the issue of employment for youth after 15 years…” Nath reacted.
In Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest migrant-receiving states, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government plans to introduce a law that will make it mandatory for the private sector to reserve 80% jobs for those domiciled in the state. “Domiciled”, in this case, is defined as someone who has lived in the state for more than 15 years.

Last December, the Karnataka government amended the Karnataka Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Rules, 1961 to make it mandatory for private industries to give “priority” to Kannadigas in clerical and shop-floor jobs. The rule said people residing in Karnataka for not less than 15 years who can read, write, talk and understand Kannada are eligible for these jobs. The government had announced it would follow up with a law defining the quantum of reservation but that is yet to happen.
One state that did pass legislation for quota of up to 75% in both government and private jobs last year was Andhra Pradesh. The law, though, is yet to be implemented. Governments have powered through with these moves despite the legal questions. Reacting to Chouhan’s announcement, Congress MP and Supreme Court advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told TOI, “Howsoever well-intentioned, a blanket ban permitting jobs to be held only by old and permanent residents of MP would be constitutionally (and I’m not talking politics here) invalid.
The right to vocation, free movement and quasi-federal structure of the country allows some reservation and protective steps which are narrow, focused and targeted. A blanket ban would not be legally valid.”
Asked about the legal soundness of reserving jobs for locals, PDT Achary, former Lok Sabha secretary general and an expert on the Constitution, said, “There is a provision under Article 16 of the Constitution which provides for reservation on the basis of place of residence. States can make laws to provide reservations under this provision. However, by definition, the objective of quota is to reserve a portion of the total jobs for people or groups that are inadequately represented. Reserving all jobs is a move violative of other provisions of the Constitution that grant freedom of movement, among others, and is, therefore, legally invalid. Moreover, such a decision does not square with the idea of nationalism that is being pushed at present.”
The legal question apart, implementing such laws is not easy because of factors like skill sets, availability of cheap labour and local job preferences. Gujarat, for instance, has had a policy since 1995 that says industries, both private and public, which have received government benefits must provide 85% employment to locals.
But the policy has remained on paper and even PSUs do not follow it. CM Vijay Rupani has on several occasions attempted to enact a law but has faced stiff opposition from industrialists. Gujarat, as one of India’s largest manufacturing hubs, is also one of the country’s biggest migrant-receiving states and employs 50 lakh migrant workers.
For states heavily reliant on migrant workers, reservations will be a much bigger challenge than those who don’t. In Haryana, which has a huge requirement of technically skilled workers as one of India’s largest automobile manufacturing hubs, industrialists have, just like those in Gujarat, opposed job quota, saying it sent out the wrong message at a time when they were desperate to bring workers they have lost back to factories.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tamil Nadu, another huge automobile hub, which has not felt the need for quota because of the abundant availability of technical manpower.
“In fact, technical workers from Tamil Nadu are engaged by companies like Sri City SEZ in AP close to the Tamil Nadu border as well as those in Bengaluru. Hence, it is superfluous to have reservation for locals in Tamil Nadu,” a senior official with the industries department told TOI. “Even without reservations, majority of industries employ up to 90% locals. Migrant workers are used predominantly in sectors like construction and textiles, which locals are not keen on,” the official added.
Most states, including Tamil Nadu, run courses to enhance skill sets of locals.
In Video:Migrants ready to work even as state quotas shrink job space



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