A glaring reality in India that the pandemic has brought to public notice is that the metro cities, that have sheltered a large number of skilled and unskilled workers, have been under the severe effect of infections. This has caused the migration of labour force to the villages mostly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Governments did help them with support like free-ration, but the question in the long term about livelihood stared them in the face. Nobody at this juncture can say that the mega cities will return to normalcy in a particular timeframe.
So, the only tenable solution presently is to work out an eco-system that creates livelihood opportunities in places where the workers have returned. The Union government has quickly moved in this direction, and announced Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan, which will be launched on June 20, 2020 by the Prime Minister.
Vision That Goes Beyond Mere Hand-outs
Monetary support and free facilities suit as an initial reaction to address the vulnerable section did take place. However, it is at best a stop-gap arrangement, and does not hold feasibility as an economic step for the long-term.
With the new employment drive, the government has addressed two major issues: creating a livelihood avenue for the workers in their own villages and hometown, and; making an economic sense of this exercise by ensuring that these opportunities translate into in development of the target regions. In a way, it is also an effort to solve the problem at its roots.
Why do the people from the interiors of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh take the pain of moving out? Essentially because the place they originate from is underdeveloped, often lack basic facilities and offer no employment opportunities.
Now, what does the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana do? It will provide employment, according to the skill level, to workers who returned, and focus on creating infrastructure and face-lifting the native place, thus addressing to an extent issues that force migrant workers to move out.
Since the works are spread across 25 categories, such as construction of housing under Awas Yojana, piped water connections under Jal Jeevan Mission, works related to highways and railways, horticulture, energy-related government schemes, sanitation etc., one can imagine how these districts and villages which have received more than 25,000 returned workers may transform themselves after 125 days.
How It May Impact – Bihar’s Example
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Bihar to launch this scheme. The state of Bihar has received more than 24 lakh workers who have returned from Delhi, Mumbai Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Kolkata, Chennai, Gujarat, Surat, Rajasthan, MP, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and many other states after lockdown.
If not addressed quickly, this could turn into a problematic and depressing situation for the state. But with the employment drive, the workers are assured of work for the next four months. Also, the 32 districts chosen for this scheme will get an overhaul in terms of infrastructure such as housing, sanitation etc.
To put it in the context, the underdeveloped blocks of Bihar have got an opportunity to upgrade their profile into a developmental mode. The places that got this opportunity of development are: East Champaran, West Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Darbhanga, Purnia, Gaya, Madhubani, Araria, Saran, Rohtas, Samastipur, Banka, Khagaria, Begusarai, Supaul, Bhagalpur, Saharsa, Aurangabad, Buxar, Kishanganj, Madhepura, Sitamarhi, Bhojpur, Siwan, Patna, Nalanda, Gopalganj, Jamui, Nawada and Kaimur.
Coal Also Brings Development
In another separate event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining. It carries huge positive implications for the economy, but what it brings for the development of backward regions is noteworthy. Commercial coal mining will greatly contribute to ease out the migration of workers, as these coal blocks majorly come in the aspirational districts and provide employment to the workers near their home.
PM Narendra Modi himself noted how commercial coal mining will help in bringing employment to the local population thereby not forcing them to migrate. He highlighted:
- These coal sector reforms will make eastern and central India, our tribal belt, pillars of development.
- 16 aspirational districts in the country have a huge stock of coal but people of these areas have not got adequate benefit of this. People from these places have to migrate to far-flung cities for employment.
- The steps taken towards commercial mining will be very helpful to eastern and central India by providing the local population with employment near their homes.
- ₹50,000 crore rupees will be spent on creating infrastructure for coal extraction and transportation, which will also create employment opportunities.
- Extra revenue generated through coal production will be used for public welfare schemes in the region. States will also continue to get help from the District Mineral Fund, from which a major chunk would be utilized in development of essential facilities in the surrounding areas.
Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan and the commercial coal mining which provide employment to local population are two examples how an opportunity has been created amidst difficult times. The agriculture market reforms have also opened up a new set of opportunities as we had discussed in our previous article. Thus, the present chaos brought by the pandemic may actually prove to be a boon, as the rural economy and livelihood becomes more robust.