Too little, too late

Centre’s scheme will not address the immediate economic distress that migrant workers are facing

AuthorPublished: 22nd Jun 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 21st Jun 2020  7:13 pm

The Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan (GKRA), unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be lofty in its intention but is too little, too late in terms of addressing the distress of the migrant workers. The Rs 50,000-crore scheme aims at providing job opportunities to returnee migrant workers in 116 districts of the key migrant-originating States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha for 125 days. They will be largely employed in rural housing, rural connectivity, railway works, community sanitation, water conservation, digging of wells, plantation and laying of fibre optic cables. Given the plight of migrant labourers whose interests were not factored in while imposing the nationwide lockdown, the Centre’s intervention appears to have come late in the day. Thousands of migrants have lost their jobs and underwent harrowing experience with several of them trekking hundreds of miles to return to their villages. What they desperately needed was immediate financial assistance and supply of essentials to meet their livelihood requirements. Unfortunately, their problems did not get the attention they deserved. The bigger challenge now awaits States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha to provide immediate jobs to those who have returned to their homes. The rural job guarantee scheme MGNREGA alone will not be able to cater to the demand. New avenues will have to be explored to expand employment opportunities. There is a need to address the immediate economic distress and food insecurity that migrant workers are experiencing. Direct cash transfers, increase in ration quotas and universal access to the Public Distribution System could offer some solace.

The homecoming of these workers in such large numbers will pose a plethora of challenges to the receiving States. Local labour markets, healthcare infrastructure and public distribution system will receive massive shocks. The brunt of this impact will be invariably borne by the poor and vulnerable sections. Local economies will also suffer due to the sudden loss of remittances that migrant workers used to send back. The resulting shortages of medical personnel, equipment and supplies threaten to reverse the gains that States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand have made in improving maternal and child health in recent years. The GKRA, which lays greater emphasis on building rural infrastructure, can yield desired results if bureaucratic delays don’t come in the way of local project approvals and clearances. According to a 2017 report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, 54 districts accounted for half of India’s total inter-State rural-to-urban migration in 2001. These districts are concentrated in Eastern UP and Bihar. The country’s economic recovery hinges on how effectively the Central and State governments can help the returning workers overcome the economic distress.

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