There are experts with the know-how of the ground who are seeing an opportunity in the large-scale movement of the migrant working population back to villages from cities.
The return of so many people to the villages may be an opportunity to revive the economy of the rural sector is the argument. And Ravindra, who works with WASSAN (Watershed Support Service and Activities Network), a Hyderabad-based NGO that works closely with the rural sector in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, is among those who believe in it.
Ravindra also says that while the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is the lifeline of the rural economy, it cannot provide for everyone at this time of crisis.
Time may have come to push the large-scale manpower now available in rural areas towards farming and rejuvenation of natural resources, works that have remained pending for long, he says.
Are people who have arrived at their homes in rural Andhra Pradesh looking to return to work any time soon?
A lot of people are coming back. While a lot of things are changing on ground, I think that for at least the next three to four months, people are not going to go back to the cities because of the uncertainty in the urban areas. They don’t know when the next lockdown could happen trapping them again in urban spaces where survival is a big challenge.
How big a role do you think MGNREGA is going to play in the revival of rural economy?
From what I understand, the government does not have the wherewithal to give 100 days’ wages to everyone who is looking for work right now. It will be monsoon pretty soon anyway, and MGNREGA works are any ways going to stop.
MGNREGA should be there. It is the lifeline for a lot of people in rural India, but it cannot sustain everyone. The MGNREGA framework – to dig up holes and fill it - we need to get out of that. Bring people back to agriculture. A reorientation needs to happen.
So what alternatives are you proposing to people?
We are asking people go for food crops at the moment as a temporary relief. Nobody knows how long this pandemic will last. Earlier, people said that the country will see peak in cases in May. This has now been shifted to June-July. This virus is bound to spread but you will have to look for sustenance nevertheless. If you are living in a village right now, feeding your family is going to be your biggest concern right now. PDS will give you rice, but beyond rice how will you manage things?
What happens, for instance, if the virus comes to the rural areas? If an earning member of a family gets infected with it and is quarantined, what happens to the rest of the family?
So, the way forward for people in rural areas is to farm?
I think we could look at this ongoing period as an opportunity to revive agriculture. For example, people can be pushed for revival of natural resources, for biomass regeneration, lot of things can be done. Everyone is affected by the ongoing economic crisis, including tribals whose weekly markets, the source of sustenance for many, have been shut for two months now.
The last two months were an important season for many people because what they earn during this period, they draw their year’s resources from it, including investments for the next crop. And the next crop is going to be harvested till, say, September-October, when the harvest of the next season will happen.