Uploaded on June 27, 2020
Ensure our livelihood, first
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Bobde has been remarkably patient in dealing with government law officials, generously granting them their wish to have long extensions or to postpone action on pleas of victims of injustice for immediate cognizance.
However, when the SC thundered last fortnight, “Stop this horror show”, everyone sat up and took notice that the gruesome spectacle of homeless–jobless workers and their starving families was so powerful that it snapped the formidable patience of the highest court in the land.
The court demanded that stranded workers and their resourceless families trudging along to their homes in the countryside across hundreds of kilometers be assisted by states and Union territories to reach home safely within 15 days. This is the horror show that the world has been watching live on their TV regularly for three months when the lockdown began throwing hundreds of thousands of workers and their families out of their rented homes and unsteady jobs in distant cities.
Now that a second wave of corona is feared to be on its way there is a greater need to create work opportunities right in their villages where the migrant labourers have returned in droves, risking great peril, for hundreds of kilometers to reach home in a severely dilapidated condition.
States have announced plans and schemes to rehabilitate the workers, but mostly everything is on paper. Frustrated, some workers have started going back to the cities as lifting of lockdown has opened a small window for employment. Some states, Punjab in particular, have sent AC buses to the villages from where the workers had come in the first places. Sufficient food and water have been ensured for the small number of labourers needed for the agriculture season.
There have been reports of some companies bringing back their skilled workers on normal flights in comfort, well-fed and watered, unlike their journey home. They have been given better salaries and proper living quarters also. This is good news, but it does not account for even one per cent of cases.
Already 45 per cent of India’s work force is employed in agriculture, but their share of GDP is only 14 per cent, less than one-third of the urban average. Such a huge flood of incoming migrant labourers has created an oversupply of labour and driven down the rural wages.
We hope (we can only hope) that with a better co-ordination between the Centre (which had passed on the responsibility to states till the beginning of the third week of June) will improve the outcome. Now it has got involved in the implementation of economic programmes and handling of Covid cases in states.
A particular point to remember is that GDP growth and employment figures of the lockdown and post-lockdown period have not yet come in as the quarter will end later. The report of that quarter will show where we stand in GDP growth and economic well-being. It will also show whether we will have enough financial resources for economic revival, creation of jobs in cities and villages.
To do all this (which includes revival of demand and investment) we will need all closed factories, shuttered companies and deserted construction sites to become fully functional. That will need huge funds and endless patience.
Economist Manish Sabharwal says the reckoning of GDP growth and economic revival should begin from a year after the opening of lockdown for a correct assessment. That is, a lost year in economic terms.
Most of us who have fallen on bad times do not know the economic nitty gritty. All that we ask for is, please restore our livelihoods, first.