Nagaland: Lack Of Discipline And Patience Working Against Nagas In Construction Industry - Eastern Mirror
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Nagaland: Lack of discipline and patience working against Nagas in construction industry

By Thejoto Nienu Updated: Nov 11, 2023 9:26 pm
Construction workers engaging in constructing a retaining wall at Chozuba town in Phek district earlier this month. (EM Images)

KOHIMA — The construction industry in Nagaland is undergoing a transformation, moving away from the traditional building methods ingrained in Naga heritage, as the availability of modern technology and materials have reduced the use of locally available resources like thatch, wood, bamboo, and stone slabs, over the years.

This transition is posing a challenge to the Naga workforce. While some have adapted to the change, many are not used to constructing structures that use steel, reinforced concrete cement (RCC), and other materials, resulting in the industry relying heavily on migrant workers. This was evident during Eastern Mirror’s interactions with industry experts.

Medozho Zango, an architect and retired regional chief of Housing and Urban Development Corporation Ltd. (HUDCO), highlighted the need for professionalism in the construction sector, pointing out that Nagas lack discipline and are resistant to authority.

Emphasising the importance of learning from experienced workers, he said at least three to five years of commitment is required for an individual to acquire skills and become an expertise in construction. He lamented that many Nagas lack the patience to wait that long.

Sharing his experience working with local workers, Zango opined that Nagas are quick learners and inherently creative. Local workers are predominantly engaged in laying stones, such as boulders and blocks, which attracts higher wage, but they are hesitant to take up other tasks, he said, adding that many tend to focus on early completion of projects and rely on their own assumptions rather than theoretical support, leading to compromise in quality.

The inconsistency, unwillingness to commit to long-term projects, giving preference to social and cultural activities over their profession, etc, among the local workers is also working against them in the construction market, he added.

Casting slap
Construction workers engaging in casting lab at Chozuba town in Phek district earlier this month. (EM Images)

Sharing a pattern he observed, Zango said local workers tend to engage in intense labour for three to four days and go on to take an extended break, like working for 15 days and then taking a break of equivalent days. This intermittent work schedule, along with demand for higher wages, poses a challenge in terms of competitiveness in the labour market, he added.

Saku Keyho, a civil engineer and founder of Alpha Builders that engages in construction and consultancy, shared that he primarily recruited local Naga workers in his firm, accounting for 90% of workforce when it was launched, but it has decreased to 40% due to changing circumstances.

He lamented the lack of discipline and commitment to working full-time throughout the year among the local workers, saying that they often engage in paddy fields during summer and harvesting periods.

Despite the shift, he expressed willingness to involve more local workers to bring about a revolution in the industry.

Resistance to authority

The architect said that the reluctance of local workers to acknowledge the leadership within the crew is a stumbling block to their progress. Many aspire to be the head mistry (foremen) and are unwilling to recognise the expertise of more skilled individuals. This trend, he said, is a potential hindrance to effective teamwork and project execution.

He also highlighted a crucial issue in the local workforce- lack of leadership (foremen). Lack of designated leader and non-realisation of responsibilities agreed upon in the contract, should be addressed to improve efficiency and successful execution of projects, he pointed out.

Also highlighting the necessity of having a leader within the local construction workforce and an experienced person to lead the crew, in order to instil trust and confidence, he said such an arrangement among peers is vital for disciplined project execution. Overlooking this aspect could hinder the local construction workers to excel in the industry, he opined.

The shift in workforce

In the meantime, Zango said the increase in the number of local workers entering the construction industry could be noticed of late, and that the workforce in the sector in Nagaland is currently dominated by migrant workers from Bangladesh, while those from Manipur, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh decreasing.

The presence of migrant workers can be credited to the boosting of the construction economy in the state and the rapid pace of development projects. Despite lacking extensive skills, these workers are valued for their abundant and cheap labour supply, giving them a competitive edge in the market, it was observed.

Improper planning and risk

Maintaining that many old buildings were constructed without proper planning, prioritising convenience over safety, which is posing a risk to the people of the state, Keyho emphasised the crucial role of architects and consultant engineers in providing guidance and supervision for ensuring safe infrastructure.

Zango noted that there is a distinctive hierarchy in India where skilled labourers occupy a different position than the technocrats and engineers who possess theoretical knowledge but may lack hands-on experience. This distinction, he argued, has a significant impact on the quality of work and its delivery in the present situation.

On this, he suggested the possible need for government and semi-government sectors to certify workers, while acknowledging that such an exercise might not reflect a person’s capability. He also emphasised on giving importance to skills and practical work over certificates in assessing an individual’s proficiency in a given profession.

The way forward

Zango said that there is a struggle among the local workers in channelizing their traditional knowledge to the changing trend. Pointing out the possibility of workers in the rural areas not getting the opportunities to enhance and nurture their skills, he emphasised the need to promote them, as the demand for skilled artisans will increase with rapid urbanisation.

Keyho also stressed the importance of imbibing professionalism among the Nagas, citing substantial investment made by the state as well as the citizens in the construction sector.

This, he believed, would not only provide a livelihood but also contribute to the economy of the state.

Pointing out the scarcity of local people in specific areas such as tiling, plumbing and aluminium glazing, he stressed the importance of diversify skills in various trades, asserting that it is crucial for contributing to the state’s economy and reducing dependency on external sources that diverts funds from the state.

He also urged the local workers to refine their skills and explore opportunities by engaging in RCC works, painting, stainless steel works, installation of modular kitchen, and other field of expertise that are more rewarding financially, instead of sticking to the current trend of laying block size and boulder stones for retaining works, which is physically demanding but limited in terms of earning prospects.

He went on to underscore the importance of commitment to skill development, delivery of professional-quality work, and the need for a well-organised sector among workers to thrive in the industry.

(This story is the fourth in a series of reports pursued as part of the KPC-NBOCWWB Media Fellowship 2023)

Also read: ULB election to be concluded by April 31, Nagaland govt. tells SC

By Thejoto Nienu Updated: Nov 11, 2023 9:26:02 pm
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