By: R. K. Sinha
Those images were horrifying. Migrant labourers carrying babies in arms, walking on roads barefoot to their villages, hungry and tired. Factories were closed in the wake of lockdown. Workers found no jobs. Promises of providing food remained mere promises. On ground zero the situation was completed different from what was being described. False narratives were being pushed. They were forced to walk back home because the train services were postponed. It was much later that special train for migrant were run from major cities like Mumbai.
Some states much did better than others in this respect. The Centre had agreed to provide trains for migrants, provided the states shared 20 per cent of the cost. Uttar Pradesh demanded maximum number of trains and agreed to pay the requirement amount. State chief minister Yogi Adityanath who was the target of attack of left liberals and pseudo-secularists for displaying photographs of those who had indulged in violence in the wake of anti-CAA stir had first come to the rescue of daily wagers in a big way. Some states had even opposed the move.
Uttar Pradesh which has been often called by cynics Ulta Pradesh had shown the way. Not only did it arrange trains for the workers who were engaged in factories and other fields outside the state but made available jobs to them. On one particular day it created a record by providing jobs to one crore labourers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has launched the special employment scheme for the migrant labourers praised Yogi in no uncertain terms for these arrangements. The Yogi has done what only a Yogi could do.
His government created data bank for the skilled workers. It helped him and others who were looking for skilled labourers. Lakhs have found jobs this way. A large number of them have been hired by factory owners and industrialists. Because of these initiatives, Uttar Pradesh is much ahead of other states as far as providing jobs under the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan is concerned. Uttar Pradesh government is going to provide employment to about 40 lakh people in MSME sector alone. Apart from this, loans totalling Rs 10,000 crore is being given to thousands of entrepreneurs under the Mudra Yojana for self-employment .
Developed countries like England, France, Italy and Spain can also learn something from the Uttar Pradesh government. It has shown how to protect people from an epidemic like Corona and keep them engaged. It is only a coincidence that the population of these four countries match the population of UP which was 24 crore at the last count. The government had a chance to transform the crisis into an opportunity and it utilised that fully. Of course, doctors, paramedics, cleaning and security staff, policemen, Anganwadi workers-everyone contributed in equal measures.
Population apart, there is no match between these four countries and UP. In these four countries, 1.3 lakh people have died of Covid-19 while only about 600 people have died in Uttar Pradesh. Americans have everything, better medical facilities, healthcare system and equipments, but had the worse suffering from Corona. America had 33 million populations out of which 1. 25 lakh have died. If the situation was not handled in Uttar Pradesh properly 85 thousand people would have lost their lives in the state.
The state had conducted a district-wise survey identifying industry which could employ more. It had taken some additional steps. A dozen departments were given the responsibility and asked to implement the job schemes. These included Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Road Transport, Mining, Railways, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Environment and Forests, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Agriculture.
Clearly, the UP government has provided big relief to migrant workers who were facing hardships. Governments in other states should act likewise. They should work on the same lines, especially the governments in Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The labourers there should get some work. Currently, most are unemployed.
The attitude of most of them towards migrant labourers is far from praiseworthy. Uttar Pradesh Chief Yogi has certainly behaved differently. He had arranged 10,000 buses for the migrant labourers to help them reach home safely. The government had also formed more than 50,000 medical teams for screening of labourers coming from other states.
Most of migrant labourers of other states have returned. They require jobs which have to be provided on priority basis. The challenge before them is big, but if the government of Uttar Pradesh can give employment to 125 million needy, so can they. These states should also take care of their children. Many of them have to be admitted to schools. Some of their other needs to have to be fulfilled. What is required is will. Where there is a will, there is a way. (The writer is a Senior Editor, Columnist and former MP)