In the rural interest
Following the massive reverse migration that took place in the country during the lockdown, the Prime Minister on Saturday launched a scheme to boost rural livelihood opportunities in six states. With a corpus of Rs 50,000 crore, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Scheme is designed to primarily provide employment to all migrant workers who have returned to their native states in the wake of the pandemic-induced lockdown. While urban centres have been running short on labourers, those in their villages now also face financial uncertainty. The prime factor for their migration to urban centres in the first place was a better livelihood. However, prevailing circumstances have brought them back to their rural homes. Their return consequently rose the demand for MGNREGA job cards. To meet the unexpected rise in job demand, the Centre initially allocated additional 40,000 crores to the MGNREGS outlay, making it a lakh crore rupees. However, it could not adequately deal with the scale of reverse migration that has occurred. The newly launched scheme comes in to fill the gap which MGNREGS, in its current capacity, could not have appropriately filled. Spread across 116 districts in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan will provide 125 workdays in 25 different types of work; laying of fibre optics cables, rurban mission jobs, sanitation works, railway works, waste management, farm ponds, poultry, etc., to name a few. Coordinated between 12 Union government ministries, implementation would be the key as the scheme aspires to cover at least two-thirds of migrant workers. Through the scheme which will help alleviate the financial limbo that migrant workers are likely mired in, the government also aspires to bolster rural infrastructure besides completing highway, railway and water conservation projects. By its contours, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar scheme resembles MGNREGS, albeit undertaken in the wake of adversity rather than with the aim of general development as in the case of the latter. Though the scheme has a set target of 125 days, the government could initiate an analysis of the scheme and thereby deliberate on regularising it for the betterment of rural India. Alternatively, MGNREGS could be overhauled to include elements of Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan and collectively exhibit a massive outlay exceeding two lakh crore to provide rural employment. It is always better to have one umbrella scheme rather than multiple ones with similar objectives.
An integration of both Garib Kalyan and MGNREGS would serve rural India prudently. By an overhaul that increases the number of workdays and minimum wages, the Centre can prepare a consolidated rural employment programme which will not only include regular employment for those in need but ensure routine development across the country. Active deliberation over the same is need of the hour. MGNREGS has been quite beneficial for the country. The government has already set the ball rolling for the deployment of One Nation, One Ration Card which will streamline access to food. Agricultural reforms have also been facilitated. While current targets require combatting the uncertainty induced by the pandemic, ushering a reform in rural employment would be the best way to convert the crisis into opportunity. The demand for guaranteed work under MGNREGS across phases shows how important the scheme has been for the country. Garib Kalyan Rojgar may also prove fruitful in its duration given its targets. It would be prudent to include more districts as the glaring exclusion of Bengal — which has a significant amount of migrant workers — deprives many of the benefits under the scheme. Besides monitoring the implementation of the scheme, a dynamic approach towards the scheme, including new types of jobs, more districts, etc., would serve in the interest of development and welfare more than what the scheme primarily aims to provide.