A roadmap to strengthen India’s rural economy | Analysis – analysis
The coronavirus disease-induced pandemic (Covid-19) has posed several socioeconomic challenges for India, the most critical being how to revive the economy. To overcome this obstacle, India needs to redesign and reconfigure its socio-economic configuration. One of the key drivers of this reconfiguration would be the behavior of migrant workers. This will be crucial because the proportion of the informal sector dependent on labor in the economy is high.
India has an estimated 497 million workers, of which around 94% work in the unorganized sector. A large percentage of this population has been severely hit by Covid-19.
During the closure, despite severe restrictions, many returned to their villages by any means available. The less adventurous workers were left behind, but without any income. With uncertainty about the shutdown and no cash left, most remain desperate to return home, despite the Union government now allowing multiple businesses and industries to open in some areas.
The reasons behind this desire to return home are not far from searching. They feel that the village ecosystem provides them with emotional security and, to a large extent, food security.
Now the crucial question is: What will be the pattern of behavior of migrant workers once the blockade is fully or substantially lifted, and after things begin to return to normal?
There is a strong belief that many migrant workers may not return to their workplaces due to uncertainties, apart from the requirements for the harvest season in rural areas. The memories of the difficulties they faced during the confinement and the difficulties they experienced during their return to their villages will not soon disappear from their minds.
This is an unprecedented situation. But this also provides an unprecedented opportunity for the nation. Over the years, India has witnessed a phenomenal increase in migration from rural to urban areas, due to decreased opportunities in rural areas, decreased returns to agriculture, and rapid urbanization / industrialization in cities.
This has led to the proliferation of slum groups in cities, which has resulted in severe pressure on urban infrastructure such as water, sewage, transportation, and social resources. It appears that the coronavirus has pushed a reset button to ensure uninterrupted reverse migration from urban cities to rural areas, and we, if we so choose, have the opportunity to capitalize on this situation.
In an effort to boost the economy, mainly the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) sector, we could try to integrate these reluctant migrant workers to return to the rural economy of India. This can also be an occasion to realize Mahatma Gandhi’s dream, making his concept of gram swaraj a reality.
It is well known that people in many districts have certain abilities, which have been inherited, evolved and nurtured through successive generations. When a worker, skilled or unskilled, migrates to a large city, he subsequently draws a few more of his people to that city to look for work.
After this reverse migration, these skilled migrants are available in a group in rural areas. This can be leveraged to set up a MSME unit and provide you with credit, technical knowledge and market support. For example, Uttar Pradesh Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath came up with a plan to establish a type of industry in a Uttar Pradesh district. This could be an ideal time to give these plans a functional shape.
It is time for the MSME Union ministry and state governments to come up with a workable plan to encourage a group of huts, small and medium-sized enterprises in Mofussil villages and towns.
These companies may take a while to emerge. In the interregnum, an action plan could be developed to broaden the scope of development work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee System.
Those educated among skilled workers could lead this MSME effort, especially in the food and fruit processing sectors. The Center’s Micro Unit Development and Refinancing Agency bank could be of great help here.
Desh Deepak Verma is Secretary General Rajya Sabha and former Secretary of the Government of India.
The opinions expressed are personal.