Covid19 infection that has begun from Wuhan in China in November 2019  which has now infected over 3237600 patients in 184 countries till end of April 2020 and led to mortality of over 228828 persons worldwide. In over five and half months virus has reached width and breath across the world and impacted severely at various level. The countries which were well equipped itself with Missile to safeguard their sovereignty but caught off-guard and were ill equipped to deal with Microbes and incidentally it also brought to light lack of preparedness and importance of investment in the area of basic healthcare. COVID 19 has severe implications in the area of business, employment, livelihood, environment, economy, international relations, and as prominent industrialist and philanthropist Ratan Tata put COVID19 created serious existential challenge to the human race.

1st Nationwide lockdown was announced on 25th March in the country and was eventually extended to 3rd of May 2020 after reviewing situation and after consultation with Chief Ministers of various states of India. Although, lockdown has successfully checked spikes in cases and prevented community spread to a great extent, however nationwide lockdown has also created severe hardships for the migrant’s population; be it inter-state or intra state migration. Some instances of gathering of migrants labourers at Delhi, Surat, Orissa, Mumbai while lockdown was in force are indicative of not only desperation to reach home but also prevailing insecurities over jobs and uncertainties over future. Lockdown is most likely to have severe impact on sustainability of small scale industries.

Once lockdown is gradually lifted, stranded migrants labourers would begin their journey to their respective states and homes. 10 tribal dominated states would face severe challenge of reverse migration post lifting of the lockdown. It is even more critical in light of study of a Lucas Chancel, prominent economist which has highlighted in one of the research that Income inequality in India at its highest level since 1922. It is even graver in light of NSS data of unemployment which is highest since 1977. According to data released by think-tank Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), India’s unemployment rate surged to nearly 9 per cent from 8.74% in March 2020. As per Global Hunger Report 2019, India stands at 102nd among 117 countries.  Once we analyse the data against aforespecified indicators, it seems even more crucial in light of employment and suicides. As per the data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with regards to suicides, it was discovered that the number of unemployed people committing suicide had not only shot up, but it also surpassed that of the farmers in 2017 and 2018. Maharashtra contributes about 13.4% of the total suicide rate followed by Tamilnadu (10.3%) and West Bengal (9.9%), which is highest among the states and UTs. It is therefore important to understand and foresee what challenges and way forward can reverse migration face against the backdrop of very challenging economic state, worrying employment indicators, grave hunger scenario and socially fragile situation on account of losing livelihood.

Researchers Ph D at IITBombay on “Hunger, Food Insecurity and Malnutrition deaths among Tribes in Maharashtra” has revealed Migration as one of the important 13 different types of coping mechanisms that Tribes in Maharashtra rely on while dealing with hunger and starvation. Against this backdrop, one of very crucial challenge that tribals would be staring at is their loss of livelihood and consequently loss of purchasing power of the households and the families which is likely to make them vulnerable further.

Migration was found to be liberating as it provides opportunities for the people to improve their socio economic situation and at the same time positively alters the labour relations, wages and mitigates the exploitative relationships at the grass root level. Migration is one of the important coping mechanism through which people have improved their social life and social status and addressed their aspiration for the future.

Analysis of migration data and its impact at the local level brings to light the fact that migration has had a liberating impact on most of the landless and marginal farmers in the village and even altered the social and economic relationships positively. For instance one of the respondents, Ramnath who explored migration for the first time out of curiosity, has managed to come out of debt trap which has tied him down to one employer in the village, paving the way for achieving household food security and also improving his ability to negotiate better wages. While the researcher was having a discussion with him in his hut, he came up with a very poignant statement which sums up the link between borrowing money from the moneylender and food insecurity. He stated, “Had I borrowed money from the moneylenders, you would not have seen Turi in my yard” pointing proudly to the heap of red split gram which as kept for drying.

What are some of the options that can help in ensuring entitlements, improving livelihood and safeguarding interest of the tribal communities? For 2020-21, the government has allocated  Rs 61500 crores for MGNRGA scheme, which is lower than last years revised estimates of Rs 71001.81 crores by 13.4%. Keeping in mind catastrophic effect of reverse migration in rural areas as well as on tribals due to COVID19 pandemic, government should increase budget on MGNREGA substantially and should at list provide 200 man days of work instead of 100 man days of provision currently in order to compensate wage loss due to absence of migration. Such provisioning would lead to increasing purchasing capital of the targeted households and enable communities and households to cope better with likely imminent hunger. Efforts should also be made to include pastoral communities, landless and other excluded communities with the objective of creation of income generating asset under MGNREGA.

Agriculture and allied sector contributes $ 265 billion that is 15% to the GDP and employ over 60% of workforce. As per Central Statistical Office agriculture sector reported a low growth of 2.9% in 2019-20. Tribal livelihood depends greatly on forest based resources and agriculture based livelihood. Agriculture based social enterprises promotion has a huge potential of providing sustainable livelihood of small and marginal farmers that constitute 87% of pleasant in the country and tribal communities. Investment in building social enterprises among tribal coupled with strengthening supply chain and thereby ensuring access to products would be the key in the context of tribal development particularly in lighting of lack of control of the tribal over their own productive resources.

Poverty and backwardness are major issues confronting tribal communities. Gainful employment within the region can prevent forced migration to cities besides improving the standard of living of local communities. In terms of addressing backwardness and poverty, agricultural based entrepreneurship would create self-employment, address structural poverty related issues and enable families to come out of poverty and hunger in a sustainable way. In addition to this, it is equally important to take cognizance of the issues related to land issues and landlessness, food insecurities, inclusive development, capacity building along with sustainability.

COVID19 has offered us an opportunity to introspect deeply kind of centralised urban centric development model we have pursued over the years, would we learn lessons and reflect on sustainable decentralized model of development for tribal and rural population of the country, time and power dynamics would be able to answer this in coming months and years.

Dr Nilratan Shende has his Ph D on Poverty Hunger and Coping Mechanism Among Tribes in Maharashtra from IITBombay. He is a researcher development cum CSR practitioner who is engaged in promotion of social enterprise among people at the BoP.



One Comment

  1. By default the wild human has shutdown modern civilization applying the precautionary principle because survival of himself is at stake. But not fully. Covid19 flourishes also because of useless activities like nuclear power programs which consume always more than they generate and nuclear wastes with other pollutants destroy habitats at infinite biological effectiveness, allowing killers like Covid19 to infect living beings. Dam dynamics through daily dam content changes cause Covid19 human deaths through habitat destroying earthquakes. Stop nuclear activities and divert the trillions of rupees so released to care forever the living beings. See