The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected many developing countries and reversed many years of developmental upliftment of their populations. Governments were needed to devise unique policies that quickly arrest economic adversity in affected sections of the society including the provision for economic support for the poor. One such innovative project was Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan (GKRA) announced by the Narendra Modi government in India in the wake of severe economic distress caused by the pandemic and the consequent prolonged lockdowns in Indian cities.

The lack of economic opportunities for the vast labour population in Indian cities led to reverse migration of workers (both skilled and unskilled) to their native places, mostly rural areas. The situation demanded urgent government initiatives to engage such a workforce in employment so that millions of families are prevented from sliding back into poverty. GKRA was launched with a budget of over Indian Rupees 50,000 crores to be implemented in 116 districts of 6 states where an average of around 25000 workers per district returned in 2020. The states include Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.

The campaign focused on a massive employment- cum-rural public works of 125 days in each of the villages in the selected districts. The campaign involved 25 different types of works which was coordinated by 12 different ministries namely Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Road transport, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Railways, petroleum, New and Renewable Energy, Telecom, Border Roads, Highways, Mines, and Environment. The massive effort underpins the importance that the government placed on manufacturing vast opportunities in rural areas for engaging the unemployed labour. Some examples of the construction work include Community sanitation centers, cattle sheds, poultry sheds, Gram Panchayat Bhawans, Goat Sheds, National Highway works, Vermi-compost structures, Water conservation & Harvesting works, wells, plantation works, Anganwadi Centers, rural housing projects, rural connectivity works, solid waste management, farm ponds, etc.

As per the report of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the GKRA has achieved an employment generation of 50.78 crore person days with a total expenditure of Rs 39,293 crores. As of November, the GKRA has skill-trained 1.24 lakh reverse-migrants (those who migrated from Cities) under the PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana which is another GOI scheme for skilling Indian youth. All this has led to employment and livelihood opportunities for migrant workers who returned to villages and also rural youth. Out of the 6 states, Rajasthan saw the greatest number of employment with 15.39 crore persondays followed by Bihar and Uttar Pradesh while the expenditure incurred was highest in Bihar.

The project identified rural employment generation as the rightful requirement to safeguard livelihoods of reverse migrants. As per recent trends, the opening of economy has already led to employment getting back to normal in Indian cities. The timely announcement of the scheme acted as a buffer to arrest the backward slide in poverty elimination during the pandemic phase 2020-22. With proper acceleration of the Indian economy and job generation, the path of economic consolidation, job growth and poverty elimination are being restored.

Developing countries are facing a variety of economic issues after the pandemic, as warned by the World Bank which includes high interest rates, high debts and international shocks emanating from the Ukraine conflict. Governments must devise suitable solutions to support their poor and create buffers to prevent the loss of their incomes due to challenging economic landscape. The battle against poverty has continued longer than half a century. Temporary jolts in the timeline shouldn’t be allowed to reverse the hard efforts of the countries.

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