Decelerating rural-urban migration 

Decelerating rural-urban migration 

Representative image. Credit: AFP file photo.

The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in India has caused a severe economic and employment distress. A major result of this is the migration of nearly four crore urban unorganised workers back to their native villages, that are poor in productivity and income. 

This has entailed migration from general manifold urban misery into rural poverty and chronic lack of employment opportunities, of capital and entrepreneurial initiative and investment, and high increase in multi-dimensional poverty. 

Migration of rural youth to towns and cities is general, traditional and expected and is looked at as a necessary, inevitable part of the development process.  But this pandemic-induced reverse migration has laid bare the accrued infirmities, rather the unprepared and ill-planned urban apparatus to receive and retain migrants from villages - lack of amenities like housing, transport, potable water, sanitation, electricity, of access to Public Distribution System (PDS) grain, facilities for education of children, health, social security etc. 

Retaining rural youth in their native villages has gained importance provoking compunctions about extant urbanisation policies and measures. 

Though urbanisation is supposed to be planned through the creation of satellite towns, special economic zones (SEZs), smart cities and countervailing census towns, these have remained ineffective and bigger cities have become ever overcrowded.  This Covid-provoked accentuation is manifest in reverse migration to poor native villages, particularly in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Also, complementarily, we have plans and the idea of creating or provision urban amenities/facilities in rural areas, the well acclaimed PURA (Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas). 

With regard to expenditure affordability and allocations for creating or augmenting civic amenities, doing it in smaller towns is easier financially as well as logistically. Also, neighbouring rural areas will benefit both from non-traditional employment opportunities and incomes. Skill training of youth also gets a possible socio-economic inducement or Philip—demonstration effect.   

Clearly, retaining village labour in their native places involves creation of employment opportunities and increased incomes or wages to the employed. Since 2006, this effort towards rural employment has taken the form of MNREGA (The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005)  -  working as benchmark wages and decelerator of drift migration to larger towns and cities. 

This has created millions of man days of employment variously in states and ensured additional incomes to rural people and women. Also, in turn, retention of youth and girls from rural areas in schools, and skill training for additional years has been noticed.

International agencies have acknowledged this and poverty-reduction and steady increase in rural incomes is noticeable. Provoked by the politico-economic-social pressures, 2020-’21 has witnessed an increased allocation of Rs 1.1 lakh crore for this employment-poverty alleviation, rural productivity enhancement programme. 

This has entailed various rates of daily wages anywhere from Rs 202 in Uttar Pradesh and Rs 260 in Goa. Setting aside the question or issue of comparability with sanctioned minimum wage, this MNREGA payment has acted as additional incomes to the family, particularly women. The latter are thus got to be treated with dignity in families and their neighbourhood. 

Urban distress

In response to growing poverty and unemployment and urban distress owing to Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, an urban employment programme has also been suggested—Decentralised Urban Employment and Training scheme (DUET). 

As far as possible, this has to be put in place and requires planning and organisation, allocation and deploying due manpower. But, in view of the need and tradition of higher levels of wage in urban areas, DUET will entail far larger allocations.

Funds needed for one unit of DUET jobs will possibly suffice for creation of two units of rural MNREGA jobs. Moreover, urban unemployment is far more readily manifest and DUET, if implemented, will provoke greater urgency. 

Complementarily, retaining more people in rural areas through MNREGA and other kinds of farm and non-farm activities and investment, dry land farming, transport, cold storage, construction, rural roads, water body refurbishing etc, unemployment distress can be overcome locally. 

Sustained reaching of additional incomes to the rural poor will result in the prospect of capital investment at the individual level including in manpower improvement over the next generation. This holds out the hope for lowered poverty in the next generation, over the next 8-10 years. 

Provoking productivity improvements in rural areas, dry land farming and nutrition reach will pave the way for all-round economic development, spilling over to industry and urban areas in an entirely organic or continuum way.

(The writer was professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore)