Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan: A Travesty on Migrant Workers
WHILE the whole country is fighting against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the priority of the BJP is to manage Rajya Sabha elections and campaign for the Bihar state assembly elections.
The launch of ‘Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan’ by prime minister Narendra Modi on June 20, 2020, is nothing but an extension of the election campaign through government machinery.
The campaign was launched from Telihar village of Beldaur block of Bihar’s Khagaria district.
The initial details of the scheme were provided by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a press conference on June 18, 2020. According to the official communique: “The programme, aimed at boosting livelihood opportunities in rural India, will create durable infrastructure along with boosting employment opportunities.”
The scheme is being propagated in the media and the public as a new programme to generate employment opportunities in rural India for migrant workers returning home amid the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown. A closer look reveals that there is nothing new in the scheme. It is just 25 existing schemes bundled together in the name of providing jobs to migrant workers.
These schemes are already functional in rural India under different ministries and departments and the new scheme only brings them together. Twelve different ministries will come together for the implementation of this scheme through their coordinated effort.
This scheme will be operating in villages across 116 districts in six states. Each of these districts has received at least 25,000 migrant workers each. The states are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. Twenty-five activities are proposed to be carried out through the scheme. These include the laying of fibre optics cable, railway works, urban mission jobs, sanitation works, waste management, poultry and farm ponds. However, there are no details provided yet about the operations part of the scheme. These tasks will be provided to migrant workers through ‘common service centres’ and ‘krishi vigyan kendras’, it has been said.
NOT A SOLUTION
This scheme does not offer any solution to the giant problem of unemployment in urban and rural India and does not even offer any permanent relief to the returnee migrant workers. Under this scheme, migrant workers will get one-time employment for 125 days in these six states. There is no information about what will happen to the presently unemployed who are waiting for help from the government. This scheme simply overlooks the need for employment of 100 million workers (according to the economic survey that estimated the migrant workforce to be roughly 20 per cent or over 100 million in 2016). But according to other estimates, this figure is 60-65 million (short-term and circular migrants in the informal wage economy). Even if we consider only the returnee migrant workers, that number is huge.
According to a report of the Indian Express on June 11, 2020, more than 6.7 million migrants returned to 116 districts in 6 states. The report also mentioned that this number might be higher owing to under reporting. The scheme announced by the government does not address the issue of unemployment. This farce by the Modi government shows it is not serious about unemployment vis-a-vis about the revival of the economy. The unemployed workforce is incapable of generating demand. The scheme announced by the government is not to address the monster but to create a short-term illusion among the migrant workers, a ploy for the upcoming elections
There is no clarity whether the money for the scheme will come from existing schemes or if there is an allocation of new funds. There is no clarity whether the amount will go directly to workers as wages or other expenses will also be covered. The highlighted figure is also grossly inadequate and meagre when compared to the number of returnee migrant workers. Conservative estimates drawn from news reporting present the number of workers to be over 8.8 million. The much-hyped allocation comes only to Rs 56.81 per migrant worker.
WHY A NEW SCHEME
What is the need of a new scheme when the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is already there? What will be the role of MGNREGA in these districts? The government is not serious about the implementation of MGNREGA, which has the potential to provide work to all the returnee migrant workers. MGNREGA has suffered due to the lack of budgetary allocation. Alternatively, there are efforts to dilute the act. Recently, MGNREGA funds have been diverted to private enterprises to subsidise their wage payment.
Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog, is openly calling for taking advantage of the COVID crisis and pushing for implementation of the neoliberal agenda in key sectors. There are reports that a group of ministers headed by social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot has recommended transfer of a part of the scheme’s funds to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as factories, construction firms and shops to hire and pay workers.
It should be noted that there is a need to support MSMEs and unorganised sectors like construction but that cannot be at the expense of MGNREGA which is a vital tool for the revival of the rural economy. What we need is a sustained effort to strengthen MGNREGA and extend it to urban areas with additional allocation. It is surprising that while the prime minister has announced a new scheme for the employment of migrant workers to attract media headlines, rural workers have been denied employment under MGNREGA. The states identified for Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan, are the ones that are denying work under MGNREGA.
The simple question is why are workers in these states not being given MGNREGA work despite their application to do so ?
The prime aim of the Garib Kalyan Rojgaar Abhiyan scheme, implemented in campaign mode in 125 days, is to woo the voters of the Bihar in the upcoming assembly elections and to mollify the anger of the millions of migrant workers who have undergone life-threatening experience of three months of stranded life during the unplanned lock down.