For dignity & self-dependence
Concepted by Former President Kalam, PURA can provide a workable model for the rehabilitation of migrant worker in rural area, write SM Khan & Shahryar Khan
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has directed the Central and state governments to identify and send stranded migrant workers to their respective hometowns within 15 days. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has further directed the states and union territories to prepare a complete list of workers who have reached their respective hometowns and ascertain the work they were engaged in prior to the countrywide lockdown. The Apex Court has also asked the centre and the states to specify schemes for employment of migrant workers post the lockdown.
A majority of these migrant workers working in urban cities have been making their way back to their native villages since the inception of the lockdown. A large number of migrant workers were even forced to walk barefoot to their native villages as they had no idea what the future had in store for them and wanted to return safely to their families. For many of the migrant workers, the dream of moving to a bigger city for work has in many ways been shattered. Now the migrant workers who have returned to their native villages are feeling safe and secure at their home. With the feeling of safety and security now a large number of workers would want to continue living in their villages even when the country would get out of the lockdown and would not return back to the urban cities due to the insecurities of job, health and house in the urban areas which would decongest the urban cities and congest the rural areas in large numbers.
This feeling of safety and security can be short-lived as the workers would, sooner rather than later, face hard-hitting problems of unemployment and poverty. Even though the Central and the state governments have been running many welfare schemes for the benefit of the rural population, the demand for such schemes would increase manifold and the infrastructure in place would not be able to cope up with this upsurge. For instance, the reverse migration has resulted in an increase in job demands under MNREGA and in May 2020 alone, 2.3 crore households have registered themselves for work under this scheme, the number being the highest so far.
With the Apex Court directing all states to submit affidavits on schemes for migrants and their job creation by July 8 when it will take up the issue next, the states do not have much time to formulate new policies and will have to rely on the policies which are already in the public domain. The Central and state governments can take a leaf out of the teachings of the Former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who had given a concept of PURA (Providing Urban Opportunities in Rural Areas) for developing rural areas in 2004 along with PV Indiresan (Former Director of IIT Madras) with a view of bridging the urban-rural gap to make India a developed nation. Dr Kalam had always stressed on bridging the urban-rural gap by providing urban opportunities to the rural population of the country so that the rural population does not feel the need to flock big urban cities in need of living a dignified life for good quality education, healthcare system and employment. Even though the initial plan of PURA as formulated by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam could not take off in a manner as expected by the Former President himself, the present unprecedented times can be used to successfully relaunch the PURA to create economic, social and educational opportunities in rural areas.
The main objectives of the PURA was to connect the rural area with road and electronic connectivity. Dr Kalam thought that once a rural area is connected with a big city through road and electronic means, then it will lead to the creation of technical institutions and industries which would not only stem economic activity but also lead to the creation of employment opportunities for the rural population.
Due to the lockdown, and reverse migration of the workers, the state governments can work on the above-said model by identifying some nodal villages and its cluster villages as proposed PURA clusters and survey the land availability, housing conditions, roads, skills available to the people and existing occupational opportunities in those particular villages. Based on the model, those villages can be established into a PURA cluster. The state governments can, therefore, use the concept of PURA in reviving the rural economy and more importantly, in creating jobs for the displaced migrants by spending on infrastructure, healthcare, connectivity and education in a proposed PURA cluster which will not only lead to the creation of employment but would also lead to a better standard of living in the rural areas and ensure that the migrant workers who do not want to return to urban cities can easily stay in their respective native villages and earn a livelihood their itself. The funds for creating PURA clusters can be mobilised from Government sources as well as the private sector by making it one of the components of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). The creation of PURA clusters will not only help the rural population but will ensure the unemployed youth in urban cities get employment opportunities as the urban cities would be decongested and require new workers. Further, the creation of PURA can also act as an assurance to the migrant workers that the Government is worried for their well-being and can be a mode of winning the trust of migrant workers who have lost faith in the Government and the employers who did not give them adequate protection to them at such an important juncture.
SM Khan is the Former Press Secretary to President APJ Abdul Kalam and Director General Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, presently Dean & Director, Jamia Hamdard & Vice President India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi. Shahryar Khan is an Advocate, Delhi High Court. Views expressed are personal