Lakhimpur Kheri: Kaushal Kishor, in his late 30s had no clue that he would be sent for 14 days quarantine on returning to his village in Lakhimpur Kheri.
Kishor, who was working as a driver in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, returned to his village when the COVID-19 induced nationwide lockdown was extended in the first week of May 2020. Even though he had returned on request of his family members in Lakhimpur Kheri, he was worried about how he will feed his family as his savings were drying up rapidly.
After completing his quarantine period of two weeks, Kishor found work for constructing an earthen road under Operation Chaturbhuj. This project falls under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
“I was earning Rs 10,000 per month by doing the driving job in Unnao and was worried about what my family will eat and how they are going to survive the lockdown but I was wrong. The chief development officer Arvind Kumar personally visited us asking if we want to work. Then we got this work through which I have been able to earn Rs 5,226 after completing the quarantine,” Kishor said, adding, “Being a father of two kids and a sick wife I was very worried, but I am happy now that an official thought for people like us who have returned to their hometowns from other cities where they were working.”
Arvind Singh, the chief development officer (CDO) of the terai district of Lakhimpur Kheri, told NewsClick in a telephonic interview, “Operation Chaturbhuj is a programme under MGNREGA which aims at providing livelihood to thousands of job-seekers, mitigate disputes after demarcations of roads and providing road connectivity after Chakbandi (measurement and demarcation of agricultural plots).”
The 2015 cadre IAS officer said that the pilot run of Operation Chaturbhuj was successful and now it has been implemented across the district. “We started work on Operation Chaturbhuj before the lockdown and were successful in completing the construction of a non-tarmac road in Parsa village. When the lockdown started we chalked out a plan to expand this project in order to provide jobs to everyone and now the district is generating 8.68 lakh man days per day which is about Rs 17.5 crore in just three weeks of time,” Arvind said, adding, “Other than construction of earthen roads, ponds within 400 metres of any canal are also being dug.”
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“You can see that Lakhimpur Kheri has generated the highest number of person days at 8,68,000. So it means 8,68,000 x Rs 201 = *approx Rs 17.5 crore got generated for labourers in just three weeks time, which is highest in Uttar Pradesh. Further in such a short span of time in any fiscal year, even when there was no ban on MGNREGA (as was the case this FY for the initial 21 days), this kind of results have never been achieved in UP at least,” he said.
”Kheri stands at no. 1 position in achieving it's target of Cumulative April & May 2020. The district has achieved its target up to 97% and soon it is expected to cross 100%. This is equivalent to achieving the target of 60 days in just 30 days,” the officer explained.
Migrant Workers Benefitted
It is to be mentioned that UP saw the highest number of migrants returning from other states after the imposition of lockdown. According to Additional Chief Secretary Uttar Pradesh, Awanish Awasthi, a total of 21.59 lakh migrants have returned to the state till May 28 through 1,551 Shramik Special trains.
The officer through an official press note also claimed that 25,000 new job cards were made under the MGNREGA in order to provide jobs to the migrants returning from other states.
Sharad Patel, a social activist working for the rights of marginalised in Lucknow, said it is good that officials are at least doing their best to provide jobs to the labourers but a lot more still needs to be done.
“MGNREGA is good but the government should also brainstorm on other policies which can be brought to use for providing employment to the migrant labourers otherwise the situation will worsen. These workers will not return to the big cities in one go once the lockdown comes to an end. They will return slowly. In this condition, if these people are not provided with work then it will have its own consequences and the concerned authorities should also think on these lines,” he added.