June 22, 2020
Women workers at a MGNREGA work site. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh Chandok

Workers need to be gainfully employed at their native places to avoid starvation

THE LOCKDOWN enforced in wake of Covid-19 pandemic left 24 percent of Indians without work. 

Around 400 million workers in India are at risk of falling even deeper into poverty because of the pandemic as they are forced to move back to rural areas due to the job losses, predicted the International Labour Organisation

More than 67 lakh returned to 116 districts in six states from cities in last three months due to lockdown.

Bihar topped the six states with 23.6 lakh, followed by UP with 17.48 lakh returnee workers. Many of them may not want to go back to their workplaces and are instead exploring livelihood options in their native places.

Several receiving states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are creating more work opportunities while the Centre has launched Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan worth Rs 50,000 crore.

The scheme aims to provide work to the returnees in 116 districts of six states for at least 125 days. Work will be allocated based on skill sets of the worker. 

400 million workers are at risk of falling deeper into poverty due to Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown

Till now, however, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme has turned out to be the most viable option to provide relief and work to the villagers.

The scheme, earlier criticised by many, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has now got additional allocation of Rs 40,000 crore from the Centre and is expected to generate 300 crore more person days this financial year.

In Rajasthan, over 49 lakh people got employment under the job scheme on June 6, a jump of over 17 lakh compared with the same day last year.

If the workforce is utilised properly, it can lead to expansion of farming, creation of natural assets like water harvesting structures, fish ponds and fruit orchards. Such assets will also provide cushion against extreme weather events like droughts or floods.

In Chhattisgarh, rejuvenation of the rivulets has been integrated in to MGNREGA works. Workers enrolled under the scheme in the state had jumped from 57,536 in beginning of April to more than 19 lakh by the month end.

Jharkhand government wants to engage five lakh families in fruit tree plantation and other work on two lakh acre of government fallow land under Birsa Harit Gram scheme integrated with MGNREGA. 

Under Neelambar Pitambar Jal Sammridhi Yojana, the state government is carrying out water conservation projects, hoping to create 100 million man-days over next four-five years. Another scheme has been launched to construct playgrounds in every panchayat to promote sports and also offer jobs, again under MGNREGA. 

Centre has launched Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan worth Rs 50,000 crore to provide work to returnees in 116 districts

Till now, however, MGNREGA has turned out to be the most viable option to provide relief and work 

Uttar Pradesh claims to have given employment to 51 lakh people under MGNREGA during the lockdown. New works like those required in schools and skill development will be included in the scheme.

The state has already sent a message that it will guard its people. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said any state that wants to hire its workforce has to seek nod of the state government. 

In Bihar, the state government has prepared a database of skilled and unskilled workers to create related employment for them. The survey found that around 1,125 out of 1.40 lakh workers were skilled in vehicle driving while 781 were good in cooking. Around 221 female workers were skilled in baby care and household works, including tailoring.

A returnee at a quarantine centre in Araria town was found to be skilled in toilet construction and was given work at the centre itself. Construction of 1.4 million houses under PM Awas Scheme has also resumed in Bihar to absorb the workers.

Bihar govt has prepared a database of skilled and unskilled workers while Jharkhand is engaging them in fruit tree plantations and construction of sports stadiums in villages

Chhattisgarh is rejuvenating rivulets  and UP is including work in schools under the job scheme


Non-profit organisations are also engaging people in ration-for-work programmes.

In Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, more than 500 workers who returned home are volunteering at 10 water crisis-prone villages at Tikamgarh and Chhatarpur districts.

They are desilting, digging and deepening water ponds and even digging new ones. The women in these villages have been walking long distances for years to fetch small quantities of water. In fact, water shortage is a major reason for out migration of people from this region. 

Once they complete the work, ‘Jal Jan Jodo Abhiyan’ a campaign for water conservation, provides them a ration kit comprising 10 kg wheat flour and 5 kg rice and dal besides other incentives.

The state government also claims to have provided jobs to around 33,000 workers in Chhatarpur district.

Schemes, numbers and claims notwithstanding, the real impact of these initiatives will only be evident soon in unemployment data and reports from the ground. 

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