Citizens hold the key to the 'unlocking' of Mumbai

Updated: Jun 01, 2020, 10:11 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

How we respond to the relaxations now will determine what the authorities decide about the extension of the lockdown

This picture has been used for representational purposes
This picture has been used for representational purposes

Dharmendra JoreWe had no way about knowing the lockdown relaxations for Mumbai because this piece was written before the state government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) released their revised orders. But one thing is for sure, that the full unlocking of the country's biggest red zone depends on how we tackle the grave health scare through June, and how we, as responsible citizens, respond to the relaxations, if any, this month. Since the previous response was very discouraging, the authorities will think twice before unlocking, fully or partially, the city's urgent humanity.

The country's economic hub and one of the most densely populated cities has its own behavioural characteristics, that have driven it through natural calamities and a series of terror attacks in the past. We have seen how the Mumbai spirit replaced fear and the city resumed its routine to power the country's growth. Mumbai contributes 6 per cent to the country's GDP and 66 per cent to Maharashtra's GDP. In March 2019, the state collected R42,000 crore. But in March 2020, the collection dipped to just R17,000 crore — a drop of 60 per cent. The income for April and May will be even less than the previous months.

Mumbai has fought many an opponent successfully, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be the toughest of all adversaries. The disease has ceased the city's engine which is run together by a variety of components. Over the past two months, the engine has lost its vitals. The ecosystem that powered this engine needs rejuvenation. The unlocking, coupled with the state and centre's impetus and the city's undying entrepreneurship, should see us overcoming these difficult times, not immediately but steadily and gradually. Nearly 70 per cent of the city's contribution is from the service sector, which stopped operating to its fullest strength two months ago. The real estate sector contributes 13 per cent to the country's GDP. The most important contributor to the city's success story is the invaluable share of migrant workers from other states and districts within Maharashtra — be it seasonal, skilled, unskilled, organised and unorganised workforce. What would happen without them?

Will migrant workers return?
Will the largest after partition migration affect the economic activity in Mumbai and for how long? Experts say the problems won't last long because the workers will start coming back to the city and MMR once the scare subsides.

The migration has happened not just between Mumbai and other states but also between Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra. Most migrants have gone to their native places where the economy is already in bad shape and can't support skills these workers have acquired during their stay outside. Not all would be accommodated in an agriculture-oriented sector which may provide some jobs during the sowing seasons. Not all will be able to shun the urban lifestyle where their kids got better education and job opportunities. They will be eagerly waiting for an opportunity to travel back to avail of the centralised development. They will do it for their families and kids.

The skilled workers should be the first lot returning to the cities. It will be more difficult for the landless to survive the economic hostility and job drought in the rural areas. Reports coming in from some villages and states say that the migrants were saddened because they were not accepted by their own because of the fear of infection (which very soon may convert into the fear of sharing scant resources with the newcomers).

Sons of the soil issue
It is good that states like Uttar Pradesh have declared they will secure their migrant workers economically and socially. The thought has come after sad stories of migration rocked the country. The UP government wants a guarantee from the hiring states that their workers' interests will be protected. The move evoked strong political responses from Maharashtra where a maximum number of UPiites have worked and shifted to their homes in the past two months.

The unofficial figure is much larger than the official one. In migration, the Maharashtra government sees an opportunity for their own jobless people. The question is, how will the Maharashtra government do it and how will the local youth take it? If the 'sons of the soil' mission gets accomplished in Maharashtra and the UP government also succeeds in holding its workforce back there with jobs and self-reliance, it should be a win-win situation for both states.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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