Millions of migrant labourers have returned to Uttar Pradesh during the coronavirus crisis. The biggest challenge before the state government is to provide employment and food to these people. Industries in the state are in bad shape and MSMEs are reeling under a crisis. Farmers are facing liquidity issues and are finding it hard to sell their produce. Former UP Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav spoke to Siddharth Kalhans on the challenges before the state government and measures taken so far.
What problems do you see in the extended lockdown and return of migrant labourers?
Neither the lockdown nor the return of migrant labourers was properly planned. The decision to put the entire country under lockdown was taken abruptly without any planning. As a result, millions of people were stranded. And now one month after the lockdown, the government has started calling migrant labour back home, without any planning. Though trains are running, a lot of people are forced to walk all they way to their homes. In fact, the centre and state governments are clueless and directionless.
But at least the migrant labour is coming back now. Where is the problem?
The problem is that the decision to bring them back was taken very late. Now, on the one hand, the government is trying to open trade and industry, and on the other, the workers are returning. The labours who have completed 14 days of quarantine at the workplace would be quarantined again on returning. Also, when they get back to work, the same procedure would be repeated. Is this logical? The government should have ensured the return of migrant labours within a week of announcing the lockdown.
The union government has announced a huge economic package that promises big relief to MSMEs.
We are getting to know about the truth of this package every day. It has no measures to feed the poor and provide employment to the youth. The states have got nothing from this package in terms of direct financial assistance. At least the Centre should release the share of GST to the states. This would be more helpful. As far as MSMEs are concerned, the package will be of no help to over 90 per cent micro industries in UP, which are unregistered. Increasing demand in the market is the urgent need and this needs direct financial assistance to the rural and urban poor. The MSMEs have been seeking help from the government to disburse salaries to staff during lockdown but this demand has been overlooked.
The UP government said it would give employment to 5 million people through MGNREGA and to 9 million via MSMEs.
I too have been in government and know well that MGNREA is largely funded by the Centre. How come the Centre allocates additional funds to just one state? As far as generating jobs through MSMEs is concerned, they need to save the jobs of the existing staff. The UP government should come out with a white paper explaining the number of jobs generated so far and in which industries. The biggest challenge is to maintain the present level of MSMEs.
Has the state government ever tried to involve the Opposition in the consultations on policy and planning during this crisis?
Opposition? The UP government is not consulting its own ministers in decision making. The legislators are clueless about what the government is doing. I have been demanding a special session of the assembly in the wake of the crisis. If this is not possible due to social distancing, an all-party meeting should be called. You can see the MPs, MLAs and mayors of the ruling party have been publicly speaking against their own government. This is happening because they have no role in decision making or execution.
You and others in the Opposition have spoken against the recent reforms in the labour laws.
We will oppose this move at any cost. Taking advantage of this crisis the state governments at the behest of the centre has tried to mend labour laws in favour of industries. The Samajwadi Party will oppose it and if needed we will launch an agitation. The suspension of labour laws for 1,000 days will not bring any big investment. This will only increase industrial unrest.