At a time when the trauma of migrant workers are coming to the fore amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, Union minister Nitin Gadkari has said "decentralisation of cities" and development of far-flung areas are solutions to address the crisis faced by them.
Migrants' tragedy is "too unfortunate", Gadkari said and emphasised that it was high time that employment avenues through development is created in villages, rural, backward and far-flung areas shorn of development.
With the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, economic activities have been disrupted. After being rendered jobless, thousands of migrant workers have gone back or are making all efforts to go back to their native places.
Adding to the woes, scores of migrant workers, including those going by foot, have been killed in road accidents during the lockdown, which began on March 25.
"We will have to learn the art of living with coronavirus. Nobody comes to big cities willingly... it is acute poverty and lack of avenues at native places which force migrants to come to cities...
"Pain and fear forced them to walk back...We have made arrangements for their food etc at toll plazas but we will have to instil positivity in them," Gadkari said.
In a telephonic interview from his Nagpur residence, Gadkari said, "fear has resulted in this serious situation".
Noting that decentralisation of the industry is the need of the hour, the minister said, "whoever comes, comes to Gurgaon, Delhi, Noida, Ludhiana, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai or Pune. We have to develop socially, economically and educationally backward areas".
The Union Minister of Road Transport, Highways and MSME said that he was in touch with the Maharashtra government to work on a plan that could serve as a model for other parts of the country and can arrest mass exodus of workers in search of "greener pastures".
"In Maharashtra's Dharavi 1.5 lakh people depend on leather work....The upcoming Delhi-Mumai Expressway goes through Thane. We have land available there. I have suggested to the Maharashtra government that if you join hands with us, we can establish a leather cluster there and these 1.5 lakh people of Dharavi will be shifted there. They will get affordable houses, they will get and opportunity to live with dignity," Gadkari said.
According to the minister, once the plan is formalised, design and ancillary industries can be set up, and it can be an initial step for decentralisation of Mumbai.
"The leather industry is of the size of Rs 1.45 lakh crore in India of which Rs 85,000 crore is from domestic consumption while Rs 45,000 crore to Rs 55,000 crore are exports...If the Maharashtra government takes initiative, we can start work on it which can be replicated in other parts of the country depending on expertise of people and tribal area," he said.
The Rs 1 lakh crore Delhi-Mumbai Expressway will reduce the travel distance between the two places by 220 kilometres and could help in decentralisation of over-concentrated cities. It would pass through the backward areas of Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Mahrashtra and Gujarat by bringing in various industry and clusters.
The work on the 12-lane cement concrete highway is on full swing and as it is on a new alignment, the government has saved Rs 16,000 crore on land acquisition.
Gadkari said plans are also afoot to build about 2,000 wayside amenities, industrial clusters and other facilities besides the highway. In addition, there would be smart cities and smart villages, and once the highway construction is complete, the land cost would rise manifold.
On short-term solutions for migrant workers, the minister said what happened has been unfortunate as they left in fear but still the industry and the people can convince them to return.
He cited example as to how about 16,000 migrant workers from two areas in Maharashtra -- Gadchiroli and Chandrapur -- which were not much impacted by the coronavirus had gone back to their villages in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
"A state minister has sought my help as 10,000 labourers had returned to Telangana and 6,000 to Andhra Pradesh from these areas. All work has come to a grinding halt.
"I wrote to both the chief ministers and convinced them that they had gone back out of fear. Both the states helped us to send the workers back to Maharashtra border from where Maharashtra government brought them to their districts and they have started work," Gadkari said.
According to him, similar process should be followed by the industry and others who should get in touch with the respective state governments and district collectors and bring back migrant workers legally.
The process would no doubt be time taking but gradually the workers would come back, he said, adding that at the same time focus should also be on setting up village industries.
"We are planning a large number of activities including promoting honey and other tribal produce... My target is to take the Khadi and Village Industries turnover to Rs 5 lakh crore in the next two years and for this we will work on 115 aspirational districts across the country."
Further, the minister said that 95 per cent work of the National Highways has been started and that his ministry was ensuring that the guidelines like wearing masks, social distancing etc are being followed.
"We will win the economic war and we will win the corona war... there are some people who turn opportunity into problems and there are some who turned problems into opportunity," he said.