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Editorial: Agri-tech to the rescue, for a job renaissance
The coronavirus pandemic has been a back-breaker for the Indian economy in the truest sense of the word. The country’s unemployment rate was a staggering 27.11 per cent for the week ended May 3.
It stood at 6.74 per cent in mid-March. Going ahead, the industrial workforce is expected to see the highest job cuts, followed by the services sector.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Puducherry had the highest rate of unemployment at 75.8 per cent, followed by Tamil Nadu at 49.8 per cent, while Jharkhand stood at 47.1 per cent and Bihar 46.6 per cent. Essentially, one out of every three Indians are unemployed and the strain on the job market is only set to grow heavier. The Centre has also undertaken one of the biggest evacuation exercises in recent times by making arrangements to bring back as many as 1.5 lakh Indians stuck in UAE, South-East Asian countries, and other parts of the world, out of which 25% are returning after having been laid off. So, does the Centre have any idea on how to mitigate this crisis?
One solution appears to be from jobs under MGNREGS. During fiscal 2020-21, the Centre made an initial provision for 280.76 crore person-days of work – the highest ever – to assist unemployed workers following the shutting down of many businesses due to the pandemic. Recently, the Jharkhand government also launched three new schemes in an attempt to revive the rural economy, under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. And it had good reason too - as it expects six lakh migrants hailing from the state to return home from various parts of the country.
The coronavirus crisis offers India Inc a renewed opportunity to turn its gaze away from urban markets and consider the advantages of setting up shop in small towns. Stakeholders in the agri-tech start-up space have been pushing for a ‘zero Income tax’ status similar to agricultural income. These include fintechbased start-ups that will help farmers with loans, e-commerce platforms that allow the producer to market their products without the involvement of middlemen, start-ups that offer AI and nanotechnology for improved farming techniques and better crop yield. Recognising such start-ups in the same context as agriculture can help spur more investments and innovation in this sector.
If the Centre could provide India’s granaries with the necessary infrastructure - vis-a-vis uninterrupted power supply, well-maintained roads, and clean water, the pandemic might open up more avenues in rural employment, and cost-effectively promote an inclusive growth model.