As the Covid-19 pandemic was leaving deep scars around the globe, it forced governments to take measures to protect citizens and ensure food security for its people. In India, initially, it looked as if the remote rural areas would skirt the pandemic. But soon, cases emerged in tribal areas as well as in semi-rural pockets following the return of the migrant workers, leading to social panic.
Covid-19, reverse migration and rural lives
Irregular income, lack of livelihood opportunities, pressure on resources with the return of migrants, difficulty in procuring agricultural inputs and decline in market demand have worsened the rural crisis. There is also increased uncertainty about wage employment in formal/ informal systems.
Estimates point to arrival of more than five lakh labourers back to Chhattisgarh as a fallout of the sudden lockdown. Several efforts are being made by the government, civil society organisations (CSOs), women led collectives, panchayati raj institution (PRI) members and the local administration to facilitate this process. These include provision of food and transport, creating shelters, and building awareness in the interior areas.
There is a high chance that the returnees might not want to return to cities anytime soon, thus short term measures might not be very effective. As a result, state governments are facing the twin challenges of preventing spread of disease in the short run and of accommodating them in the village economy in a productive manner in the long run.