Providing work to migrants | HT Editorial
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan (GKRA), a mission-mode scheme designed to help migrant labourers, on Saturday. The massive public work scheme — details of which were first reported in this newspaper — is worth Rs 50,000 crore and aims to provide job opportunities to returnee migrant workers, in 116 districts of key migrant-originating states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha) for 125 days; merge 25 existing State-run programmes; and create durable infrastructure. The decision to go for construction-focused employment was taken after a skill mapping of migrants showed that more than two-thirds worked in this sector.
The lockdown led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with millions of workers and their families frantically trying to return from their host states, predominantly in west and south India and key urban centres such as Delhi and Mumbai, to their villages in states in the north and east. In May, the Centre hiked the allocation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) by Rs 40,000 crore, taking the total allocation under the scheme to Rs 1,01,500 crore. But it was clear that MGNREGS was not enough, and the Centre would have to come out with another comprehensive scheme to tackle the crisis. GKRA, if implemented properly, can provide relief to the migrants, many of them landless, without savings and dependent on informal rural financial ecosystems, to sustain themselves and their families for the next few months.
The movement of workers will also have a major impact on labour markets. Industry is feeling the pinch of labour shortage. But getting back migrant workers will not be easy because the experience of the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of a social security net in the host states, and the absence of support at a critical time has broken the trust between workers and their employers, and between workers and the State. It is critical to build back that trust, and to do so the State must build a register of migrants; fast track the one nation, one ration card scheme; ensure proper housing, sanitation and medical facilities; invest in their skilling; and ensure that labour laws spur industrial growth but also provide basic protection to workers. Without these steps, the migrant workers crisis will continue to fester, and have a debilitating effect on the economy, State resources, and the lives of people.