The ‘migrants’ had taken up jobs in other states because most of them did not have means of employment near their homes. Of course, there are those who took up work elsewhere because the wages were substantially better, or their skills required a particular environment. The latter section has been more reluctant to return. This poses a complex challenge for the ‘home’ states, which are gamely attempting to provide a living to them. The Yogi Adityanath government in UP claims to have provided job cards and MNREGA work to a substantial number of the lakhs that returned. However giveaway work for a limited period of time, which is the essential nature of MNREGA, cannot solve the problem in the long term.
In Uttarakhand, a self-employment scheme (Mukhya Mantri Swarozgar Yojana) has been launched that would provide easy and concessional loans to workers wishing to set up enterprises in various sectors. The margin money will be provided by the MSME Department as a grant. On the face of it, the idea is a good one and should provide some relief to those who have lost their jobs. Unfortunately, merely being provided loans does not guarantee success unless basic business skills do not exist. It would be a tragedy if, some time from now, these borrowers end up debtors, in deeper trouble than now. As such, careful and individual-specific handholding would be required, as also pooling of skills, so that groups can develop businesses on shared strengths.
It also must be noted that the call for a return to ‘progressive’ farming in the many abandoned village lands has many pitfalls. Farming requires, both, the ability to work physically in the fields as well a certain amount of capital. One of the strengths of agriculture activities in the hills is the scope for multiple activities such as growing foodgrains & vegetables, horticulture, bee-keeping, animal husbandry, dairy farming, etc. Processing of products at the local level can provide value addition, thereby increasing income, as also generating employment for women, in particular. By providing marketing support and technical input for quality control, the government can give the necessary boost.
At the same time, the big brands should be invited to also invest in agro-based industries, particularly in the context of increasing demand for pure organic products. This would provide the monetary lift to activity that usually suffers due to inadequate liquidity. If enough number of young people use this business opportunity, the state’s economy could get the critical boost to reaching a level where people would, eventually, come from outside to take up employment here.