By Vijay Darda | 18-05-2020
Government has taken a major initiative to spur MSMEs growth, but the moot question is when will the migrant workers return from their homes?
The government locked down the entire country in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. It was a welcome move since it was the only option left. The strategy has also proved successful to a great extent. India has succeeded in preempting the likely wave of deaths to a great extent. But we have paid a heavy price for it. Therefore, it is very crucial that we get out of this situation as soon as possible. I totally agree with Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy that we have to learn to live with coronavirus. Our economy will not be able sustain any further damage.
The government is also fast realising this fact and that is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an economic stimulus package of Rs 20 lakh crore. The government has also announced to provide Rs 3 lakh crore as loan to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on easy terms. I consider it the most critical sector because MSMEs act as supply chains for large industries. For example, if an automotive industry makes a vehicle, all the small parts of the vehicle are manufactured by these MSMEs. There are 40 crore jobs in India, out of which this sector alone generates 10 crore to 12 crore jobs.
The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has said that the unemployment rate in India has reached 27 per cent, which means that about 14 crore people have lost their jobs during lockdown. Of these, around 2 crore jobs have been lost in the MSME sector alone.
If MSMEs resume operations again with full vigour and capacity then 2 crore jobs could be regenerated. But will all this happen easily? Right now these enterprises are grappling with shortage of raw materials and absence of demand in the market and the biggest crisis is that of acute shortage of work force after the migrant labourers returned to their hometowns.
As it is, a large number of workers migrated from North India to different parts of the country in search of employment. Having lost work and money during the lockdown, these workers are leaving the cities in fear and panic. The authorities have failed to reassure them during the lockdown and that’s why lakhs of them have walked hundreds of km to reach their remote villages or are on their way to their native places.
The Railways alone has ferried 15 lakh workers so far besides the lakhs of workers who are walking down the winding macadam to reach their homes hundreds of km away. These include workers who are highly skilled and cannot be replaced by anyone else. Now the moot question is, will these workers ever return to the cities? This question arises because this migration has created painful human crisis.
This ‘exodus and displacement’ of workers from cities is much larger than that at the time of independence. This crisis has displaced about five crore people from their work places. When I see the pictures of exodus of workers in the media, my heart bleeds for them. I feel that trust will have to be built and they need to be assured that they are not alone in this crisis and that they will be given full care of even if the crisis hits again. If they feel confident then they will return but it will take time!
Some economic plan will have to be unveiled for small-time traders, merely assuring them of deferring payment of bank EMIs/term loan installments will not solve their problem. If there is no liquidity in the market due to job losses and salary cuts, how will people buy goods? How can we expect industry or business to prosper when demand is low? Industries and business enterprises need to get money directly, not through loans. There is the need for direct transfer of money into their accounts.
Now it is being reported that after the Covid-19 crisis, many companies may want to leave China and come to India. Anticipating this shifting of industries, the government has also earmarked 4.61 lakh hectares of land. At least 40 companies have quit China. Most of them have shifted their units to Vietnam and Bangladesh. As many as 27 companies have shifted to Vietnam. Just two companies have made inquiries in India and they have not come here as yet. If we want to attract the companies that are leaving China, then we will have to rank among top 10 in matter of ease of doing business.
I had written in this column previously that companies will shift to our country only when we make them comfortable as far as availability of land, water, electricity is concerned and the labour law is not an obstacle. Since Maharashtra is a leading state, it should come forward and take the initiative. But when I see that first Maruti and recently Kia Motors left Maharashtra after making few inquiries, I feel very sad because such factories produce clusters of thousands of small industries around them.
Moreover, at present, many negative things are being tossed around in the country, but I feel that in this hour of crisis every person should remain optimistic and move forward with positive spirit. It goes without saying that everyone feels frustrated by the sufferings undergone during these two months. Everybody wishes to return to his work or business as before. They want that industries and businesses to resume normal operations and machines in factories to restart again.
The workers again want to get drenched in sweat while working in the factories. Let the market flourish again. Let life come back on track! I know this will not be very easy, but I have full faith in the common man of this country and hence this is not an impossible task. India is a unique country and it stands out in the world by its amazing capacity for work, awesome intelligence and rich culture that guides us even in the darkest hours. We will definitely move towards a better tomorrow and we will also prove our prowess before the world and soon our flag of triumph will fly high.
Lockdown has exhausted the entire country! Disruption to everyday life has been far-reaching. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Industrial activities have come to a standstill. Businesses are severely hit. The economy is on downhill. It is very important to get out of this grim situation. It is high time life gets back on the track.