Skip to main content

Post-Covid challenge for rural India: 12 crore migrants face 'bleak' future in cities

NGO distribution of essential items in Sarai tehsil, Madhya Pradesh
By Parijat Ghosh, Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has infected more than 5.1 million people out of which more than 330 thousand people died. Most of the countries are either under nation-wide or localised lockdown with more than half of the global population confined within their homes. Rest of the countries are also following many restrictive measures to avoid spreading of the virus.
It is impossible to predict, at this point in time, when we can again go back to the normal Pre-Covid life. Even if we develop immunity against the virus or develop vaccine to prevent or medicine to cure, it seems that the world is not going to be the same any more. Our work pattern, travel, and lifestyle - everything will probably undergo many changes.
Around 12 crore people throughout the country migrate to cities and towns from villages in search of labour work. They mostly work in construction sectors or as security guard, domestic help, rickshaw puller or other so called ‘unskilled’ jobs to get at most 10,000- 15,000 rupees a month. When the Government of India called for a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days it became one of the most tragic periods for the daily wage earners, especially migrant labourers.
A lot of rumours, misinformation created panic among them and the administration could not do much due to unpreparedness to handle such situations. When the lockdown began, the migrant labourers started attempting to go back to their villages in fear of having no shelter and food.
Both State and Central governments tried to take up measures like providing temporary shelters, food, etc. but those were not adequate. From different parts of the country we heard incidents of migrant labourers walking hundreds of kilometres with children and elderly.
On their way to home they have been stopped or beaten up by police, met with horrific accidents and experiences -- many of them died. A large number of them are still stranded in different places, in very difficult conditions. They will also go back to their respective villages once the lockdown is over.
Nevertheless, this shocking experience of returning home will remain permanently in their psyche. Majority of them may never again migrate to cities.
Will there be enough opportunities in the villages to provide them the income that they were getting from migration to cities? The answer is No. But, even then, villages can be rebuilt with an alternative perspective so that people will be happier to live even with much lesser income.
To live, we need food, shelter, fresh air, care, love, freedom to express ourselves, basic health facilities, basic education, etc. Can all these be arranged in villages? Well, many things are already there; we need to change our thoughts and actions for the rest.

Unsustainable agriculture

The present-day chemical based agriculture is unsustainable and in long run the production will decline because of loss of soil fertility. Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has changed the soil texture, damaged the soil biota and made the soil infertile. 
This has led to the disruption of natural carbon and nitrogen cycles to a great extent. To make village liveable and to get more production on a sustainable manner, the first task is to reinvigorate the natural cycles.
Most poor villages are either in the forest fringe areas or in the forests. There are around 1,96,000 such villages which is almost 30% of total villages in India. For reinvigorating natural cycles forests have to be rejuvenated. Most crucial is people’s participation in the process of rejuvenation.
The colonial mind-set of considering people, living in or near the forest, as enemy of the forest has affected both the life of those people and the forest badly. The simple idea, that if people understand that they need forest for their own benefit they will protect it, can change the entire scenario of illegal felling and declining biodiversity.
Shocking experience of returning home will remain permanently in their psyche. Majority of migrants may never again return to cities
There are examples of how villagers’ motivation in protecting forest can be enhanced. In Jana village (Gumla District) of Jharkhand and Ghughri village (Dindori district) of Madhya Pradesh the elders in the village helped the younger generation to know about different species of flora and fauna in their nearby forest and the uses of different parts of those species in their daily life.
The uses ranged from preparing medicine to making plough with specific timber, for which they had started depending on market. This helped younger generation of those villages to understand the importance of forest and they became forest defenders. The example of Mendha (Gadchiroli district) in Maharashtra shows that giving Community Forest Rights to villagers may lead to much better management of forest resulting in more biomass and more bio diversity.
A rich forest in upper catchment of an undulating terrain helps conserving soil, supplying humus rich materials to the lands in the lower catchment, apart from giving more oxygen. This humus enhances microbial population in the soil resulting into more nitrogen fixation from air and supply of nitrogen, phosphate and many other nutrients to plants.
This process may be expedited by adding compost and bio-fertilisers (containing bacteria which fix nitrogen and solubilise phosphate in the soil). Any chemical which will harm the beneficial living organisms (bacteria, earth worm, etc.) in the soil has to be rejected. This may include pesticides or even fertilisers.
The science of nitrogen and carbon cycles need to be understood by the farmers’ based on which they may come up with innovative ways to take more crops from the same land. Bharat Bhushan Tyagi, an innovative farmer from Beehta village (Bulandshahr district) in Uttar Pradesh, showed how through a multilayer cropping system production can be enhanced many times.
Many varieties of millets and rice were being cultivated in villages, even 20 years ago. Now millets have been disappearing very fast and indigenous paddy varieties have been replaced by so called ‘High Yielding Varieties’ sold by seed companies. These crop varieties are nutritious and climate resilient. Extension workers should facilitate cultivation of these crop varieties rather than helping seed companies to sell their seeds in villages.
The MGNREGA wage needs to increase to at least Rs 350 per day. This is what the daily wage labourers at Delhi get, for which people had migrated to Delhi from villages 1000 kilometres away. The work under MGNREGA in rural areas may include harvesting rain water, conserving soil, and arranging irrigation or making non-arable lands arable.
Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), a non-profit organisation, in collaboration with state governments has demonstrated implementation of those works in vast areas of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhatisgarh using provisions under MGNREGA. 
Recently, a terrace farming model has been developed in Chataniha village (Singrauli district) of Madhya Pradesh which has the potential to address the issue of intensive cultivation on hilly areas with around 30% slope. This may bring more areas under intensive crop cultivation.
The village collectives need to be strengthened. This collectives need to regulate the balance between individual progress and community well-being and uphold the values of reciprocation, cooperation, caring and sharing. Mendha village in Maharashtra is an example of such village governance.
And this is the time that the State has to invest in basic health and education in the rural areas and not leave it in the hands of private players who are neither committed for the cause nor governed by the local people. Recently, the Delhi government has done exemplary work to improve quality of government schools. This model may be replicated in the rural areas as well. Other major areas of investment should be around quality drinking water and electricity.
Many voluntary organisations work in Indian villages. Government needs to collaborate with them to build villages worth living from where people will never want to migrate.
---
*With the Research and Advocacy unit of the Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), a national level NGO

Comments

Saurabh Singh said…
Really thought provoking and workable ideas mentioned in the article which is very much required in the present times where every resource will be under stress as the people return to their village and there will be a need to suffice the hunger and other needs of these people returning to their village. It can be seen as an opportunity as they have different skillset which can be utilised to strengthen the local economy and these people, mostly youth when engaged systematically can change the picture of their village and this catastrophe may be seen as a blessing in disguise...

TRENDING

Nirma varsity demand for higher fees 'illegal', violates Article 14: Letter to Gujarat HC

Counterview Desk
Students of Gujarat’s top private institute, Nirma University, situated in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in a letter to the Chief Justice the state High Court, have complained that the authorities are demanding “full fees” from students, without taking into account the “disproportionate impact” the lockdown has on the livelihood of students and families.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Vulnerable to Covid-19, sharp rise in murder of Indian journalists during pandemic

By Nava Thakuria*
Vulnerability of working journalists in India is no way an alien issue as the populous country loses a number of working journalists to assailants as also medical emergencies. Even though there was only one casualty in the Indian media fraternity during the first half of 2020, who was targeted for journalistic work, India has begun witnessing an alarming number of media casualties during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Govt 'assures' Gujarat HC no action against MBBS students defying corona sahayak order

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has assured the High Court that no action would be taken against Part-I and Part-II MBBS students of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)-controlled NHL Medical College and LG Hospital and Medical College. The assurance follows the direction by Justice SH Vora to the State government not to prosecute or initiate action against the students who were defying the college authorities’ order to work as corona sahayaks (helpers).

Renounced US citizenship to serve workers, tribals, Sudha Bharadwaj 'odiously' in jail

By Atul, Sandeep Pandey*
Professor Sudha Bharadwaj has been in jail since August 2018. She was taken into police custody on August 26, 2018 on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities after Republic TV claimed that she had allegedly written a letter to Maoists and was conspiring to create public disorder and unrest in India.

Ex-official: Murmu, appointed as CAG, will 'surely' perform shradh of the institution

Counterview Desk
A former senior official of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Shantanu Basu, in a Facebook comment in the wake of the appointment of GC Murmu, a Gujarat IAS cadre official of the 1985, has raised doubts about the independence of CAG following the Government of India move.

Plant organic, eat fresh: Emlen Bage's journey from migrant labour to agri-entrepreneur

By Chandrashekar and Kriti*
Who is a farmer? Type this question in the google search and check out the images? You can see men thronging the screen. This is the popular perception around the globe. Well one can understand how difficult it would be for a woman to defy this perception.

High youth unemployment: India 'fails' to take advantage of demographic dividend

By Varun Kumar
As coronavirus pandemic continues amplifying challenges among youth with regard to employment opportunities, government policies have further resulted in economic slowdown, leading to mass unemployment and loss jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation report “Covid-19 and the World of Work” (May 27, 2020), around 94 percent of the world’s workers are living in countries with some sort of workplace closure measures in place.

Dichotomy? US Hindutva groups oppose racism, mum on Modi's 'anti-minority' stance

By Our Representative
The Hindus for Human Rights (HHR), a US-based advocacy group, has noticed a major dichotomy between the stance taken by RSS’ US arm, Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh (HSS), expressing “shock” at the “painful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others”, all of which suggest “the tragic tale of racial injustice” in US, and HSS’ “hatred” for India’s religious minorities and Dalits.