The rhetoric of learning to live with the pandemic has been circulating for a while now.
It appears that, in some ways, as though the Central government subscribes to a similar view. They took a month to ramp up several facilities in rural areas before the ‘Shramik Express’ ferried migrant workers back to their native states.
It was a given that the returnees would require adequate employment opportunities in order to sustain a living in the in the hinterlands. The Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan (GKRA) was launched on 20 June, 2020 by the prime minister with an aim to provide jobs to migrants from 116 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand.
This initiative has been planned to last for 125 days for starters. Halfway through the time period of this scheme, the government has managed to create more than 22 crore man-day jobs in total and 35, 99,171 employments daily on an average.
Some of the activities that were chosen to employ individuals were those that find prominence in rural areas. For example: construction of wells, farm ponds, and also the formation of cattle, goat and poultry sheds along with vermicomposting.
Across 25 sectors, 9831.37 works are completed under this programme per day, and the frequency only looks set to increase in the coming couple of months.
These 116 districts were identified to have witnessed the arrival at least more than 25,000 migrant workers.
More importantly though, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship had undertaken a skill mapping exercise along with the states to provide job opportunities to labourers close to their residences.
More than two weeks before the initiation of the Rozgar Abhiyan, the Uttar Pradesh government had already created a database for the specific skills in which 23,00,000 migrant workers specialised.
Some inconsistencies were reported in the same later on, but that is rather unavoidable with the sheer volume of individuals being documented.
At around the same time, Jharkhand mapped of 2, 50,056 labourers and deduced that 70 percent of them were skilled whilst the rest (72,871) were unskilled.
The Hemant Soren-led state would probably not be able to formulate jobs for all of them. But, at least a verifiable evidence of particular expertise of every migrant worker will allow them to source out that data to industries, private firms and public sectors and streamline a supply chain of these individuals appropriately.
Furthermore, this project has also literally moved in mission-mode so far. The GKRA involves 12 different ministries and departments, takes into account 290 nodal officers totally including 117 district collectors.
Its implementation is spread across in states from opposite ends of the country and aims to provide its benefits to the people in the lowermost strata of the society.
As mentioned beforehand, this Abhiyan required a meticulous mapping of millions of workers too. And yet, the government managed to set it in motion within a couple of days from its official announcement.
In a country that has faced troublesome bureaucratic hurdles for minute tasks, this initiative managed to surpass several obstacles to give out immediate employment.
There were some talk regarding politicisation of the scheme, considering that 54.31 percent of the districts benefitting from it belong to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Railway Board chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav had claimed in May that 80 percent of the shramik trains terminate in these two states, which also caused clogging and congestion in the network causing delays in the route.
The manpower and labourers belonging to these regions from the heartland is arguably unmatched, so they need to be primarily focused in this initiative.
Three non-Bharatiya Janata Party ruled states are a part of the plan too. Bhupesh Baghel’s complaint of Chhattisgarh not being included in the plan is understandable.
However, the claim that the Central government wronged West Bengal through its exclusion is abominable. Mamata Banerjee’s non-cooperation right from rejecting the approval for Ayushman Bharat Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Sidhi to creating hindrances for a better frequency of shramik trains leave her no standing to officer excuses.
Even this time around, Banerjee’s government apparently did not share district-wise data of migrant workers and cried foul play later on.
The GKRA needs to scale up operations soon though. On an average, it creates 31,027.33 daily employments in each district currently. However, if 67 lakh migrants indeed returned to the concerned 116 regions, then there might be a necessity to almost double up operations to generate 57,758 jobs per day.
Also, the Abhiyan has an outlay of 50,000 crore at its disposal. Until now, 35.96 percent of those funds have been utilised. The last shramik train operated on 9 July, when the GKRA was in operation for 20 days already.
Perhaps the initial low numbers were because of the fact that all migrants hadn’t returned back for some part since it began functioning.
It also needs to be noted that MGNREGA recorded 86.3 percent more beneficiaries in these 116 districts in May 2020, as compared to same month in 2019. So, some chunk of the returnees might be opting for MGNREGA for their livelihoods too.
Rural economy has been consistently picking up over the last few months. Tractor sales, fertiliser consumption, and area sown under summer crops in June specifically have increased considerably.
The last sentence of the latest PIB release on the GKRA stated, “The stage is set for a longer term initiative for jobs and livelihoods for those who choose to stay back.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected so many.
Perhaps it can have the positive effect of providing local employment to scores of migrant workers who otherwise would have no choice but to sweat it out in cities far away from home.