Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - FRONT PAGE - HT Corre­spon­dent letters@hin­dus­tan­

NEWDELHI: Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi on Saturday launched a ₹50,000 crore ru­ral jobs pro­gramme, the Prad­han Mantri Garib Kalyan Ro­j­gar Ab­hiyaan aimed at creating liveli­hoods for thou­sands of job­less mi­grant work­ers who moved back from the cities to their home vil­lages dur­ing the lock­down im­posed to stop the spread of the coro­n­avirus disease (Covid-19)

The make-work scheme, which will utilise ex­ist­ing ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture pro­grammes, will of­fer 125 days of em­ploy­ment in 116 dis­tricts across six states that have wit­nessed large-scale re­verse mi­gra­tion of work­ers from the cities, trig­ger­ing a liveli­hood cri­sis. In­dia’s job­less rate rose to over 20% dur­ing the lock­down in which pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­tre for Mon­i­tor­ing of the In­dian Econ­omy.

The new scheme will fund 25 cat­e­gories of pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­i­ties, such as lay­ing fi­bre op­tic ca­ble for ru­ral in­ter­net, rail­way work, san­i­ta­tion, waste man­age­ment, poul­try and farm ponds. Kr­ishi Vi­gyan Ken­dras will train the work­ers in hor­ti­cul­ture. Twelve min­istries or de­part­ments—ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, pan­chay­ati raj, trans­port, mines, drink­ing wa­ter, en­vi­ron­ment, rail­ways, pe­tro­leum, new and re­new­able en­ergy, bor­der roads, tele­com and agri­cul­ture— will par­tic­i­pate in the scheme.

“Today is his­toric day as a massive cam­paign has kick­started for the wel­fare of the poor, for their em­ploy­ment,” the prime min­is­ter said, launch­ing the scheme via video con­fer­ence. “It is our en­deav­our that through this cam­paign, work­ers are given work near their homes.”

The pro­gramme launched from Teli­har vil­lage of Bi­har’s

Kha­garia dis­trict will cover 116 dis­tricts across Bi­har, Ut­tar Pradesh, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan, Jhark­hand and Odisha.

Union fi­nance min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man had said on Thurs­day that the scheme will not in­volve new bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion. The 25 schemes will be “front-loaded” or funded from cur­rent bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions, she had said.

Although there is no of­fi­cial data on the re­verse mi­gra­tion sparked by the pan­demic shut­downs, the fi­nance min­is­ter had on May 14 al­lo­cated ₹3,500 crore for food aid to an es­ti­mated 80 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers. This is the only of­fi­cial es­ti­mate avail­able for the num­ber of work­ers af­fected by the pan­demic.

Ac­cord­ing to chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar, nearly three mil­lion mi­grant work­ers have re­turned to Bi­har alone since the Covid-19 pan­demic prompted the Cen­tre to or­der a lock­down with ef­fect from March 25.

Dur­ing the launch, the PM in­ter­acted with sev­eral peo­ple who came back home to Bi­har from places in­clud­ing Delhi, Gu­ru­gram (Haryana) and Ra­jasthan. Union min­is­ter of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment Narendra Singh To­mar, Bi­har CM and UP chief min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath were among those who were present.

“It is of great ne­ces­sity that high speed and cheap in­ter­net be pro­vided in ev­ery ru­ral house­hold to help the youth and chil­dren,” Modi said. “...Hence the lay­ing of fi­bre op­tic ca­ble and pro­vi­sion of in­ter­net are also made a part of the Ab­hiyan.”

“So far, you were us­ing your ta­lent for the progress of the cities. Now you will help in the de­vel­op­ment of your vil­lages, your neigh­bour­hoods,” PM said.

Sithara­man had said that in 125 days, nearly 25 schemes will be brought to­gether to reach sat­u­ra­tion and will in­clude the Prad­han Mantri Awas Yo­jna, Jal Jeevan Yo­jna and PM Gram Sadak Yo­jna, among oth­ers.

An­a­lysts say while an ex­pan­sion of ru­ral make-work projects is nec­es­sary to deal with the cri­sis, there are chal­lenges in creating av­enues for pro­duc­tive work. “I don’t think fund­ing for such projects will be a chal­lenge... How­ever, find­ing use­ful projects that are pro­duc­tive enough and add value to the larger ru­ral econ­omy may be a chal­lenge,” said Si­raj Hus­sain, for­mer Union agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary and a cur­rent vis­it­ing se­nior fel­low with the think-tank ICRIER

Mi­grant work­ers queue up to board a spe­cial train to their homes, at the Old Delhi rail­way sta­tion on May 30. SAN­JEEV VERMA/HT PHOTO

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