It appears that the fight against corona devil would be a longtime affair. The lockdown has put the migrant labourers helpless and penniless as they have lost livelihoods in their place of work.
About 12 crore people used to work in different cities in various development activities and sectors like textile, eatery, transport, driving, electrical and motor mechanics and building works, who have lost their livelihood. Most of these workers are migrating to their home States like Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Andhra Pradesh etc by truck, cycle and on foot.
The lockdown has also hit the landless labourers hard in rural areas who were earning livelihood by working in agro fields or cultivating small lands on lease basis as harvesting and marketing of horticulture crops in initial one month of lockdown period has come to a standstill. It would be very difficult for these classes of people to financially recover their losses that they sustained due to the scenario, which has broken the economy.
The current situation leaves no option but to revive agro activities with increasing dimension. Sometimes there used to be problems of scanty of workers while now there would be problem of plenty. Exodus of migrants to their native places would be a heavy burden on the rural economy. The home returnees may not like to go back to their former work places and would like to stay back at their native places for which it is imperative to provide them job by engaging in various rural development and agriculture activities. The scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) would have to be expanded and the work limit up to 100 days has to be extended to round the year to restore livelihood to them.
The workers can be engaged as wage earners in both farm and non-farm sectors. If more people are engaged in agriculture production and horticulture like vegetable and fruits round the year to meet domestic needs and commercial marketing, it would make agriculture more profitable, sustainable and job creating. Some of the works that need to be included under the MGNREGS are (a) digging and cleaning village tanks (b) construction of water channels, rain water conservation ponds as per feasibility (c) creating village forests of 500 fruit bearing trees in each village as per availability of space on villageroad sides (d) strengthening river banks at vulnerable flood points (e) check dams on small river courses (f) plantation on river banksand around water bodies and road sides. Concerted effort to increase greenery is the need of the hour to reduce anger of the nature.
Besides revival of traditional cottage industries through SHGs by engagement workers in weaving, tailoring, handicrafts, carpet making, milk production, fishery, bee keeping works as special rehabilitation programmes would lead to increase in agro products and eventually transform the villages / GPs as self sufficient economic units. The role of gram panchayats and blocks is important in the new scenario as these units would have to function as village Governments for successful implementation of various projects. The Odisha Government has recently taken a series of measures to empower gram panchayats. SHG groups and local NGOs can play useful role for successful implementation of such development programmes in their localities.
Article 39(a) of the Constitution mandates the State to ensure adequate means of livelihood and Article 43 calls for ensuring “decent standard of life” to the citizens. To rehabilitate all these migrant labourers the States would face enormous financial problems. As village administration is covered in the State list, the Centre ’s help is very much needed to overcome such distress.
In the pre-GST era the States had freedom to raise funds. With coming into force of GST in July, 2017, the States have lost their power to independently levy any tax to raise their resources. The idea of GST is good but it has snatched away the power of taxation of the States which was guaranteed by the Constitution as sovereign and independent entity in the federal structure. The States also need to explore other sources to raise their revenue to overcome the extreme financial crunch they are subjected due to need of engaging such a vast exodus of migrants. But this situation is exceptional and the Governments must rise above political consideration to make joint efforts for smooth sail from the crisis.
(The writer is a former State Assembly Deputy Speaker. Ph: 9437412877. E-mail: email@example.com)