In the last few decades, there has been a steady migration towards urbanisation. The unplanned growth has put pressure on urban infrastructure, including poor living and sanitation conditions, particularly for migrant labourers.
When COVID-19 hit with resultant lockdown, factories and businesses came to a grinding halt. Many migrants suddenly found themselves rendered jobless and homeless, and people started migrating back to their native villages. The exodus is one of the most monumental events in recent history.
The reverse migration of over a crore people, either by train or by road, back to their native villages has created a new set of challenges.
With COVID-19, not likely to go away anytime soon, these jobless and skilled workers have to be gainfully employed near their villages to provide them livelihood opportunities.
After being stranded in cities during the lockdown, starting from March 25,2020, the government announced permission for workers to go back to their homes on April 29, 2020.
The same day participating in a TV channel debate, I had highlighted that this will pose a new set of challenges for skill mapping when economy starts opening up. Each district has to see how best the available skills can be integrated into the revival of economy.
The central government, on June 20, unveiled a massive rural public works scheme ''Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana'' to empower and provide livelihood opportunities to returnee migrant workers and rural citizens.
The scheme will be a coordinated effort by 12 different ministries, including Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Road Transport and Highways, Mines, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Environment, Railways, Petroleum and Natural Gas, New and Renewable Energy, Border Roads, Telecom and Agriculture.
The Centre has selected districts where at least 25,000 migrant workers have returned. As many as 116 districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha have been selected.
These districts are estimated to have two-thirds of all migrants, those who have returned. Out of an estimated 1 crore migrants, who have returned home, 67 lakh are expected to be benefited by this scheme.
These districts include 27 aspirational districts which are affected by poor socio-economic indicators. There will be 25 schemes, which include rural development, road transport and highways, and rural housing etc.
The Rs 50,000 crore programme will also focus on infrastructure areas like railways, mines, renewable energy, and telecom etc. Drinking water and sanitation will also be covered.
While launching the scheme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the fact that internet users in rural areas now exceed urban users. Laying optic cables is one of the areas that will be focussed on under this programme.
This cluster based Atma Nirbhar Rurbanisation, has twin objectives of rehabilitation for reverse migration and stepping up rural infrastructure.
The Rs 50,000 crore investment will have a multiplier effect to generate demand and kickstart the economy. The scale of its effectiveness will depend on coordination of 12 ministries involved and initiatives by local bodies on the ground.
(The author is a policy analyst and columnist.)