New Delhi: After taking the lead in unleashing major labour reforms, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has initiated a marathon “skill mapping” drive, with the intention to create a database of the state’s nearly 25 lakh labourers who have returned home from various metropolitan cities across the country to escape hunger and uncertainty in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

As per data, more than 15 lakh workers have already registered themselves through the panchayat-level administration with this “skill mapping” exercise, across 75 districts of the state. The initiative aims to create a database of skilled labourers and subsequently involve them in the state’s MSME (Micro Small and Medium Enterprises) sector.

Apart from the “skill mapping” exercise, the Yogi Adiyanath government has announced the creation of a Migrant Labour Commission (MLC) to look into the migration of labourers in future and to maintain a database of such labourers.

A senior UP government official told The Sunday Guardian: “Yogi Adityanath is concerned about the suffering and humiliation faced by lakhs of labourers trying to escape the metro cities. The Chief Minister’s aim is to end the humiliating situation of the lakhs of migrant labourers by engaging  them in their own state. So the Chief Minister wants a rapid mass-scale skill mapping exercise launched.”

“The Chief Minister has directed senior state officials to complete the skill-mapping exercise within a fortnight and officials have also been told to prepare a database of skilled labourers and conduct a survey of the state’s MSME sector to assess the employability situation in these MSMEs,” the same official said.

As per an estimate by the UP government, nearly 25 lakh labourers have returned to the state.

“Out of a total of 25 lakh, the majority who have returned home are skilled labourers who have been working in the metros as plumbing staff, electricians, beauticians, gym trainers, nurses, coaching teachers, drivers, cleaners, factory workers etc. These skilled labourers could be valuable assets for the state,” the same official said.

Pawan Yadav, a resident from UP’s Gonda who used to work as an electrician in Delhi, told The Sunday Guardian: “Many of my friends and I, who have returned to UP, got registered with the ‘skill mapping’ scheme of the government, hoping that we will get some work in our hometown, as in future, we don’t want to face the same suffering and humiliation because of being migrants. We will rather die in our villages instead of stepping out for employment.” Pawan Yadav and many of his friends were forced to return home due to the lockdown.

Pramod Mishra, another resident of UP’s Gonda, told The Sunday Guardian: “If I get work in UP, I will be more than happy to work here even for a lower remuneration. Why will I go to an unknown city just to earn some money? I wish our Chief Minister is successful in his drive to provide employment to all labourers like me in UP. I was working as a barber, and when the lockdown was announced, I had no option but to sit at home. After 15 days, I ran out of money and then I called my parents for some money, but they couldn’t transfer any. Subsequently, I packed my bags and started walking from Delhi’s Dwarka to my village. On the way, I saw that thousands of people like me were walking on the streets, trying to reach their homes. It took me eight days to reach my home in UP’s Gonda district.”

The majority of the labourers returning home belong to the Purvanchal region—eastern UP and western Bihar. Some of them have got work under MNREGA, but most are still uncertain about what next.

On the condition of anonymity, a block-level official said. “MNREGA has proved to be a lifeline for labourers returning to UP and in past three months, around 60,000 labourers have got work under this scheme. MNREGA work is being monitored and assessed by the Block Development Officers of respective blocks and a timely release of payment to workers is being ensured.”

According to senior UP government officials, they are giving effort to provide insurance, direct cash transfers and food so that this backward migration can be turned into an opportunity for the state.