Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched the "Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan" - a programme to generate employment opportunities in rural India for migrant workers returning home amid the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown.
The Prime Minister, who said the scheme had been "inspired by migrants" whose heart-breaking condition during the lockdown has made headlines, said labourers who had earlier contributed to the development of cities would now be provided jobs nearer to their hometowns and villages.
"Today is a historic day, a scheme for the welfare and livelihood of the poor has been started. My labourer friends, the country understands your emotions and needs. 'Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan', starting from Bihar, is a major tool to fulfil this need and emotion," PM Modi was quoted by news agency ANI.
"Migrants will be provided jobs near their homes. So far, you were using your talents for progress of cities. Now you will help in developing your villages and neighbourhoods," he said, adding the scheme had been "inspired by migrants".
The 'garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan' will run for 125 days in 116 districts across six states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan. Each district has around 25,000 labourers returning home after being left unemployed by the coronavirus lockdown.
The programme seeks to create infrastructure worth Rs 50,000 crore through public works that support job creation in the rural parts of the country. Crucially though, this does not represent fresh expenditure on the government's part.
On Thursday Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharman clarified that the sum to be spent is part of the union budget. "This (Rs 50,000 crore) is part of the budget. What is the key thing about this is that we are bringing convergence, we are front-loading the money," she was quoted by news agency PTI, adding that the centre and state had already "meticulously mapped the skill sets of migrant workers".
Lakhs of migrant labourers, left without food, shelter or jobs by the abruptly-enforced coronavirus lockdown in march, were forced to travel hundreds, often thousands of kilometres, home in searing heat.
Heavily criticised by the opposition and reportedly fearing political backlash, the centre eventually began operating special trains to help migrants return home. This, however, posed a fresh problem for state governments - finding employment for the returning workers.
The launch was attended by Narendra Singh Tomar, the union minister for rural development and the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh (Yogi Adityanath), Bihar (Nitish Kumar), Madhya Pradesh (Shivraj Singh Chouhan) and Rajasthan (Ashok Gehlot).
During the event, the prime minister also spoke to migrant workers from different parts of the country to ask them about difficulties they faced during the lockdown.
With input from ANI, PTI