Shielding rural folks from middlemen

SIMILAR to India winning praises from the WHO, world leaders and international institutions for its tough and timely efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, government of Manipur too has been doing a commendable job in preventing further complication from the pandemic. At the national level, the 21-day nationwide lockdown followed by extension by three weeks has been fairly successful in stemming surge in infections notwithstanding the fact that the disease hotspot zones continue to record steady rate of hospital admissions resulting from the disease. As could be comprehended from regular interactions between central ministers and officials of states and union territories, the lockdown period is being utilised by the Union government for preparation and planning to enhance overall capacity in both healthcare infrastructure and revival of the economy. From revival of the industrial sector according prime importance so as to make up for the losses to extending or pledging financial support to the regional governments to improve their own situation, the centre has been doing everything at its disposal to ensure that impact of the disease does not linger for long. Every major state, which has varied manufacturing industries and construction firms, are already into crisis management mode and chalking up multipronged strategies to revive the economy and get back to normal growth at the earliest. With tens or hundreds of millions of daily wage workers, farmers and unemployed unorganised sector workers reeling under the impact of the virus, many states have swung into action to address sufferings of the marginalised sections of the society.
Contrary to reports that bigger states are prioritising full-throttle reopening of industries among other sectors, which were forced to remain idle for over a month, industrially backward Manipur has limited options to limp back to normalcy other than focusing on the poorly-managed agricultural sector, ensuring that the daily wagers either have access to livelihood activities or continue getting government sops and facilitating constant movement of goods carriers. As smooth flow of essential commodities is also fraught with danger as the transport operators are potential virus carriers due to their extensive travel including in hotspot zones, the authorities need to be extra cautious. While medical professionals would be the best to handle the virus issue and police personnel entrusted the task to tackle the drivers from taking undue advantage of the crisis situation, the state’s policy makers need to concentrate towards easing the financial burden from the poor man’s shoulders. For instance, rural development and panchayati raj minister Thongam Biswajit needs to keep his word of taking suitable action against anybody who tries to dupe beneficiaries of MGNREG scheme. As the central government-funded project that aims at improving basic infrastructure in rural areas is among the few sectors allowed to function during lockdown period, the minister should directly oversee that no middleman hijacks the rights and entitlement of the rural folks. As these workforces could be utilised in diverse sectors, including in improvement of the agricultural sector, it would be naïve on the part of the minister to believe that the department officials wouldn’t be tempted to take the risk in the multi-crore project.

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