Water conservations works and plantations, in convergence with the MGNREGA, set to provide income support to rural people affected by the lockdown
Pic: Twitter | CMO Jharkhand
In the last 40 days of the nation-wide lockdown, one visual has remained constant —- poor and vulnerable migrant workers, with their little children in tow, walking kilometres empty stomach in the heat, with the hope of reaching their villages. While many were fortunate to not collapse after walking hundreds of kilometre, as all modes of transport are shut due to the lockdown that is now extended till May 17, some died on the way, due to hunger or exhaustion.
Now, with the Central government giving some relaxation to the stranded migrant workers to return to their home states, trains and buses are being organised to transport the people.
In the last couple of days, a large number of such migrant workers have started to return to Jharkhand where they are being tested and quarantined. But, the challenge of dealing with COVID19 does not end there. It only takes off from there.
With no income in the last 40 days, these migrant workers (many daily wagers) have mostly returned home empty handed. And, amid the lockdown, there is little hope of a regular income.
To deal with the economic impacts of COVID19, Jharkhand government today has launched a roadmap to restore its rural economy and provide livelihood to the people. The roadmap, with a five-year vision, comprises a series of special schemes on water conservations, afforestation, plantation of fruit bearing trees with user rights to local people. These schemes are dovetailed with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA), and were formally inaugurated today by the state chief minister Hemant Soren.
“For an under-developed state like Jharkhand, COVID19 poses a big challenge. With our limited financial resources, we have to not only provide health services to our people, but also bring our stranded labourers back home, and provide livelihood to workers living in rural areas,” Soren said while launching the roadmap in Ranchi.
As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt Ltd (CMIE) April 2020 data, the state is reeling under severe unemployment rate (47.1 per cent), nearly double that of India (24.1 per cent).
With a focus on vulnerable schedule tribe and schedule caste communities and the women in the state, the roadmap broadly has three special schemes — Birsa Harit Gram Yojana, Neelambar Pitambar Jal Sammridhi Yojana, and Poto Ho Khel Vikas Scheme.
“Through these schemes, the state government plans to absorb the large labour force of five to six lakh migrant workers, who are expected to return to Jharkhand,” an official told Gaon Connection. “We believe the judicious implementation of MGNREGA could be the single most fulcrum to boost the rural daily wage livelihoods,” he added.
Under the Birsa Harit Gram Yojana, over 81,000 hectare (two lakh acre) unused government fallow land in the state will be used for afforestation purposes. Five lakh families would be provided fruit bearing plants with a target to plant over five crore such trees in the next few months. The initial plantation, maintenance, land works, and afforestation activities will be taken up through MGNREGA.
“We will be using both private and government land for this scheme. For instance, a number of roads are being constructed in the state. We plan to involve local people and plant fruit-bearing trees, which can be looked after by the old men and women,” said Soren. “As per our estimates, within three years, beneficiary families will start to earn Rs 50,000 a year from this scheme,” he added.
These local families will be given usufruct rights to nurture and develop the fruit bearing trees. Relevant linkages with the local and state level markets will also be initiated for the procurement of the fruit produce.
Through its Birsa Harit Gram Yojana, the state government expects to generate around 250 million (25 crore) persondays under the MGNREGA in the next five years. This is also expected to strengthen the state’s role in building climate resilient practices for the rural communities.
“Our long term goal is to use this scheme to start fruit processing factories in the state. If implemented well, this scheme can also help deal with malnutrition and hunger, which is a blot on the state,” said Soren.
The second special scheme, Neelambar Pitambar Jal Sammridhi Yojana, focuses on water conservation, groundwater recharge and creation of decentralised agro-water storage units to store rainwater. The main focus of this scheme is on Palamu division in the state, which faces maximum drought and has scanty annual rainfall. It is expected to benefit 21,000 hectares (5 lakh acre) fallow land and generate 100 million (10 crore) humandays in the next four to five years.
It is important to note that over 55 blocks in seven districts of Jharkhand have already been declared drought hit this year.
“Dams being built but our state still has drought. We depend on only one kharif crop in a year because of water scarcity. This new water conservation scheme will replenish the groundwater and ensure our ponds don’t dry up. We will be able to bring infertile land under farming,” said Soren.
The third scheme, as part of the roadmap to revive the rural economy, is Poto Ho Khel Vikas Scheme to develop Jharkhand into a sporting powerhouse and tapping into the potential of young children across the remote villages in the state. Under this scheme, 5,000 sports grounds will be developed across the state, with at least one such ground in each of the 4,300 panchayats. This work will also be carried out in convergence with the MNREGA and an estimated 10 million (1 crore) persondays will be generated in the financial year 2020-21.
Through MGNREGA and these special schemes, in the next five years, the state government plans to create 300 million (30 crore) persondays and provide wage employment to the rural people. This should also address the issue of migration.
Also, in order to compensate for the loss of rural wages of workers due to the lockdown, and no income source to migrant workers for the last 1.5 months, the state government has decided to take a special drive to generate a total of 100 million (10 crore) persondays in 2020-21 (financial year) against the approved labour budget for 80 million (8 crore) persondays. This is nearly 1.5 times more than the persondays generated in the previous financial year.
COVID19 is here to stay for some time. In such distressing times, it is crucial for all the state governments to support the rural population and its migrant workforce.