If there is one upside to the reverse migration towards villages during the pandemic, it’s the focus on rural employment. Both the government and the private sector are prioritising economic growth in the villages. While companies are moving their plants and manufacturing units out of the metros, the government seems to be propping up the rural economy with stimulus packages and new additions to national schemes.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced at a press conference on Thursday that the government is giving an additional Rs. 10,000 crore boost to rural employment. This moolah will be directed through the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojna. It will be utilised for more jobs from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and better roads through Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna.
Sitharaman announced that the Centre had earlier distributed a sum of Rs. 73,504 crores to various states as part of MGNREGS. Apparently, those funds generated “251 crore person-days of employment” (a big number on paper but dubious in calculation). The new announcement brings the total for the rural sector to a whopping Rs. 1,60,000 crores.
Yesterday’s announcement came as a sign of hope for the rural citizens of our nation. Many of them were migrant workers in the cities and returned to their native land after losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Factories shut down during the lockdown, offices were closed. Street vendors could not sell their wares publicly. Rickshaw and taxi drivers weren’t allowed to ply their vehicles on the roads. This left them with no choice but to head home despite the fact that there were no jobs waiting there either.
Another announcement by Sitharaman sent a wave of hope among farmers. She talked about a fertilizer subsidy for farmers amounting to Rs. 65,000 crores. This sum is part of the stimulus package for post-COVID economic recovery. If the subsidy is implemented correctly, the agricultural sector will see improvement. Farmers will have access to enough fertilisers in time for the next sowing season.
It was unclear if the Rs. 65,000 crores is in addition to the Rs. 70,000 crores that the Finance Minister allocated during the annual Union budget, or part of it. We hope it’s the former!