Hindustan Times : How to reduce food, job insecurity in rural areas

Launch a massive programme to rehabilitate returnee migrants; allocate an additional Rs 50,000 crore for MGNREGS; extend the free ration scheme for six more months; revive and strengthen public systems of service deliver; RBI should give a directive to banks to extend a top-up loan of Rs 10,000 crore to Self-help Groups

After the Covid-19 outbreak, 66% of rural households fell short of cash for food. About 40% reduced their food intake. Only 7% of the returnee migrants are engaged in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). These are some of the findings of a survey of about 17,000 households in 80 districts (169 blocks) in 11 states, carried out by a coalition of 65 civil society organisations, called Rapid Rural Community Response to Covid-19 (RCRC). This shows that the State has to play a major role to play in reviving and rebuilding the economy.

First, only half received the full entitlement of free rations three times — 42% received this either once or twice; 8% got nothing at all. This situation is stark in backward states such as Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Second, 66% reported that they were short of cash for food, and 51% for medicines. This shows the urgent need to revive public systems of service delivery in health and nutrition. Third, 40% of the households surveyed reported that they had reduced food intake — the proportion is higher in Bihar (53%) and Jharkhand (48%).

The cumulative impact of this economic insecurity is resulting in widespread mental health issues. Three quarters (73%) of households expressed fear and anxiety about the future,in the case of Dalits, this was 77%. Three fifths of households (63%) are worried about sustained income and support to the family. More than one third (36%) have disturbed sleeping patterns and 33% are without social interactions.

The fiscal stimulus provided so far is only a fraction of what was announced. Some specific recommendations that emerge from analysing the survey results are the following. One, launch a massive programme to rehabilitate returnee migrants. A significant proportion of the migrant workers were women (18%) and children (26%) – the rest 56% were male migrants. Almost one third of the rural households surveyed had one or more migrant workers (5,257 out of 17,032). Four-fifths of these households (83%) reported that migrants had returned to villages. Surprisingly, only 7% of the returned migrants are currently engaged in MGNREGS work, 28% are working as casual labour, and two-fifths of the households have no gainful work. When will they go back to their destination states or cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Surat? The survey showed that only one per cent migrants have gone back to cities, 58% were hoping to return by November, and 42% were unsure when they would go back. There is now concrete evidence of the urban economy contracting. The government may not have any option other than to launch a massive programme of village entrepreneurship for returnee migrants.

Full Coverage : Hindustan Times

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