Bhopal: Irrespective of the Madhya Pradesh Government’s tall claims about providing work to migrant workers who returned to the state during the lockdown, unemployment has been prompting thousands of labourers to re-migrate to big cities and try to rebuild their lives amid the threat of the coronavirus.
Since the inception of Unlock-3, in which the Union Home Ministry eased off most lockdown norms, the mass migration of labourers has begun in nearly 20 districts of Bundelkhand, Vidhya and Gwalior-Chambal regions of the State.
Buses full of labourers with their bale of clothes are leaving for Delhi NCR every day from districts like Panna, Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh, Rewa, Satna, Sidhi, Bhind, and Morena every day. Most of those re-migrating are construction and agricultural labourers.
Similarly, labourers from tribal-dominated districts of Malwa and Mahakaushal region -- Barwani, Jhabua, Alirajpur, Dhar, Khargone, Seoni, Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori -- who used to work in factories, construction sites, and agriculture fields in Gujarat and Maharashtra, are heading back to their workplaces.
This is happening even after the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government claimed to have given work to 80 lakh people under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA) in the last five months. The government also said that it distributed Rs 10,000 to 1.4 lakh beneficiaries under the PM Street Vendor Scheme and provided 44,000 jobs through the Rozgar Setu portal. Yet, migration is rampant in the State.
A survey conducted by the state government in June identified nearly 13 lakh migrant labourers who had returned to the state with their families. Of them, 75% are aged between 18 to 40 years and worked mainly in Delhi, NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Nearly 25% are skilled and semi-skilled workers while the remaining 75% work at construction sites and agricultural fields.
“The buses for Delhi-NCR leave every hour from the city bus stand since the beginning of Unlock-2,” said Yousuf Beg, a social activist from Panna. “Migrant workers are returning to work after getting calls from contractors or factory owners. The majority of them are tribals,” he added.
In Panna and its neighbouring districts Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh, Satna, and Rewa, nearly 2.5 lakh migrant labourers have returned during the lockdown, according to the state government data.
The district administrations tried to accommodate them under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act-2005 (MGNREGA), said Beg, but they could not provide jobs to every hand. Moreover, many of the returned migrants who earlier worked in factories do not want to work as labourers.
Local journalists from districts bordering Maharashtra and Gujarat -- Balaghat, Seoni and Jhabua -- said that since the factories and construction works have begun in the two neighbouring states, labourers are migrating in large numbers despite the Covid-19 threat.
“First the lockdown and then the flooding due to rains have forced the locals to migrate. Neither do they have money nor crops to make a living. A bus to Gujarat leaves every half an hour from Jhabua bus stand,” said Alok Dwivedi, a local journalist from Jhabua district. He added that the district administration’s approach to tackle the unemployment issue has been unsatisfactory.
Gaurav Jaiswal, a social activist from MP’s Seoni, painted a similar picture. “Seoni and its neighbouring district Balaghat are located near the border of Maharashtra. Balaghat witnessed the highest return of migrant workers (55,000) during the lockdown. Now, a large number of workers are heading back to Maharashtra,” Jaiswal said.
Role of Govt Schemes:
The Madhya Pradesh government have taken a slew of initiatives to tackle the issue of migrant workers’ coming back to the state and provide employment to them. The initiatives include the extension of work under the central government’s MGNREGA scheme, distribution of Rs 10,000 to street vendors under PM Street Vendors’ Atma Nirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme, launching Rozgar Setu App to provide jobs to workers and distribution of free ration.
Now, the million-dollar question is why the labourers are still going to cities in other states in search of employment when the state government is providing free ration, jobs and financial support for them to become self-reliant.
1. MNREGA Work:
According to the state government’s data, till August 18, Rs 2,889 crore has been paid as wages to nearly 80 lakh labourers, 7.81 lakh work opportunities have been opened in the state under the MGNREGA scheme and 79.8 lakh workers have been provided employment through these works.
The government claimed that three times more work has been given under MGNREGA this year compared to last year when 47.75 lakh labourers got work, a government press release says.
2. Rozgar Setu Portal:
The MP Government launched Rozgar Setu portal in May to bridge the gap between the industries, factories and workers, and provide jobs to both migrant workers and locals.
Out of 7.39 lakh registered people, the state government has succeeded in providing jobs to 43,630 people, while nearly 46,000 applications are under pending status, according to the latest data provided on the portal.
3. PM SVANidhi Scheme:
The MP government also focused on the PM SVANidhi scheme, which was launched to provide financial help of Rs 10,000 to street vendors to kick start their business post-lockdown.
As many as 4.5 lakh street vendors have been registered in the state till date and applications of 2.45 lakh eligible beneficiaries of the scheme have been presented through the portal to banks for credit facility, out of which acceptance has been granted to around 1.4 lakh street vendors of amount worth Rs 140 crore.
Among the street vendors, who have registered themselves under the scheme, are 28.36% vegetable sellers, 10.27% garments, 7.23% fruits, and 6.84% food items and beverages sellers. Among them, 62% are males and 38% are females.
4. Free Grains
The free grains provided to the marginalised sections of the society including migrant labourers in the last five months are similar to animal feed in Balaghat and Mandla districts, claimed a Union government agency. (https://www.newsclick.in/MP-Govt-Distributed-Grains-Similar-Animal-Feed… ).
As the news broke out, beneficiaries began complaining about substandard quality of grains distributed majorly in the tribal-dominated districts of the States. Many have claimed that despite getting free grains, they have purchased grains to survive.
The government’s failure to stop migration is palpable as labourers hit the road to find work. The employment opportunities provided in the last five months have been temporary and come to an end, say activists working in the region.
“Nearly 20 lakh migrant workers have returned to MP during the lockdown while the state government claimed it to be 13 lakh,” claimed Sachin Jain, a social activist. “Majority of the work that had begun under MGNREGA has been completed. Funds allocated for the scheme have almost been exhausted. Hence, the workers have again become unemployed. Besides, the ration they have been getting every month is similar to animal's feed, the Central agency has said. Hence, they neither have grains nor jobs. They have no option but to migrate to make a living,” Jain said.