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Let’s engage migrant workers and nationalist NGOs to boost the rural economy

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Dr Bipin B Verma
The author is a retired professor of NIT Rourkela and a volunteer of “Art of Living”. He follows a nationalistic approach in life. His area of interest is “sustainable rural development”. Email: bipinbverma@gmail.com

Abstract: Migrant workers are the worst victims of this COVD-19 induced lockdown, especially the workers of unorganized sectors and their families. One of the objectives of the recently announced economic package is to stimulate the agriculture sector and provide employment to the migrant workers and labourers. It is proposed in this article to invite nationalistic NGOs to participate in sustainable farming, tree plantation and afforestation schemes and push forward the rural economy.  Recommendations are also made to fulfill the requirements of herbs and shrubs for Ayurvedic medicines.

Suffering of migrant workers

Labourers and workers are the worst victims of the COVD-19 induced lockdown, especially the migrant workers of unorganised sectors and their families. In my opinion, the employers who enjoy the services are real culprits. State governments of the employers are equally responsible for the suffering of the labourers and workers. In most of the metro cities, migrant labourers drive life. The state governments earn revenue and run their economy using this labour force. But the same governments attend an apathetic attitude towards the plight of the migrant labourers at the time of crisis [Delhi Buses, Mumbai Police]. The union government is also responsible for not foreseeing the problems and not making desirable arrangements to tackle the same. The recent order of the Honourable Supreme Court may relieve the suffering of workers coming back to their home villages and towns [SC order].

The extended lockdown has, while desirable from the point of view to flatten the curve of COVID-19, enhanced the suffering of millions of migrant workers. These migrant workers are usually treated poorly in the states of their employment. They often stay in unhealthy conditions and reside either in squalid slum colonies or even on roadside pavements of the cities they serve. It is the responsibility of union and state governments to jointly address the housing problem of the migrants.

The inward migration of workers at one end will create a shortage of workforce in industries and other sectors. On the other hand, there will be a problem of providing livelihood to the workers and labourers in their villages and home states. 

Employments strategy for migrants 

The Hindi speaking states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar (+Jharkhand), Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (+Chhattisgarh) account for 50% of India’s total inter-state migrants. Whereas, Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are the destinations of nearly 50% of the total inter-state migrants [Interstate migrants].

Some of the state governments have geared up to provide employment to the workers and labourers returned back to their states. BJP ruled states have taken the initiative to employ migrant workers coming back to the states [Initiative to employ ].

In the present scenario, the reverse migration is unfounded and some of them may never return to their workplace. They may prefer to stay in their villages or nearby towns. Following the hardship and suffering during the COVD crisis, some may even compromise on the wage front. It is also important to mention that the cost of living is much lower in villages and small towns. Villages and small towns have added advantages of providing better accommodation and environment, as well as workers may also enjoy the company of their people. Farming in this country is a labour-intensive. Therefore rural India, especially the agriculture and allied sectors must prepare to productively absorb the additional workforce. A conscious approach may boost the economic condition of farmers and the nation. In the light of the recent economic stimulus package of Rs 1.63 lakh crore and the government’s focus on the agriculture sector, the investment and diversification in rural India are likely to improve. [Stimulate Agri.].

Proposals to maneuver the crisis as an opportunity

Sustainable farming

Most of the schemes in this economic package to stimulate agriculture and allied sectors do not involve intricate technology however, they are lucrative. Therefore the proposed schemes of government may attract non-serious players with the sole objective of short term gain. Since these schemes are difficult to be monitored by government agencies, entrepreneurs with track records of addressing their social obligation of uplifting the community may be encouraged to participate in the rural development programmes.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency, greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmers. A few volunteer-based humanitarian NGOs and institutions are already in the business of rural development and sustainable farming [RSS, Art of Living, Isha Foundation, Patanjali]. Since they have environment-sensitive and bio-diverse approaches in farming, animal husbandry etc., significant socio-economic upliftment of the rural population is possible under the guidance of these NGOs and institutions. Some of them have credentials of helping society during natural calamities and disasters too. These organizations have extended unconditional supports in the present national crisis [NGOs’ support, Serve people]. The involvement of these non-profit making social organizations will certainly help to improve the economic condition of rural India. Such a step will also initiate much needed social and cultural reform, desirable to restore the lost glory of the nation.

Herbal cultivation

There is an awakening all over the globe to turn back to the traditional health care using herb, shrub and tree parts. The Indian Ayurvedic science is an affordable and effective means to cater this requirement. The uninterrupted supply of genuine raw material is necessary to fulfill the ever-increasing demand for manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines. The present approach of government to encourage herbal cultivation is appreciable. Contract farming of medicinal plants appears to be safe and profitable for the farming community. It is also desirable to process the raw herbs at the harvesting site. This will generate employment in villages, reduce the cost of transportation and minimise pollution around the main production plant. In the recent past, the exploitation of herbs from the forest has resulted in degradation of forests and ecological imbalance. As a result, national manufactures are depending on the import of herbs, shrubs etc. to fulfill their requirements of raw materials. A conscious medicinal plantation within the forest and buffer zone may reduce our dependence on import [Haryana Forest]. The tree plantation, their protection and maintenance followed by harvesting and post-harvest processing are highly labour intensive. To protect the interest of villagers, the medicine manufacturers may directly deal with villagers or their cooperative societies without the involvement of contractors and middlemen. The proper implementation of this programme may generate employment for the tribal and villagers.

Compensatory Afforestation Management

The consequences of deforestation and urban pollution are serious global concerns. A total of Rs. 6,000 crore is allocated to Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for tree plantation and afforestation in urban areas [CAMPA funds]. This will also create job opportunities for tribal and poor section of society.

The growing need for environmental conservation has grabbed a lot of attention in the past few years. A lot of progress has indeed been made by several non-profit making NGOs and individuals to address this issue. [Plantation by NGOs, Sankalpa Taru, The Art of Living, Isha Foundation]. It is also true that corruption and misuse of the fund are not uncommon in afforestation and tree plantation programmes [No desired impact]. Therefore it is desirable to involve successful humanitarian NGOs for urban tree plantation, social plantation in rural areas and even afforestation in designated forests. It is worth to mention that conscience and scientific approaches are necessary to deal with environmental issues. It is desirable to plant indigenous desi trees, shrubs etc. Indigenous vegetation is vital for healthy biodiversity and human well-being as well as to support wildlife.

Most of the exotic, non-native species have both the direct and indirect damaging effect on ecosystem and biodiversity [Indigenous vegetation ]. It is also important to note that a holistic approach in tree plantation and afforestation is mandatory to address the issues of deteriorating environment and ecology. The presence of nationalistic NGOs is highly desirable to protect the interest of tribal and safeguard them from the exploitation of greedy local contractors and venom of religious conversion. Involvement of sensible NGOs in the afforestation programme will also protect the degrading culture of tribal effectively.

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Dr Bipin B Verma
The author is a retired professor of NIT Rourkela and a volunteer of “Art of Living”. He follows a nationalistic approach in life. His area of interest is “sustainable rural development”. Email: bipinbverma@gmail.com

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