The economic crisis unleashed by the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted the entire world. For an economy like India for which a fast pace of growth is critical to its poverty alleviation and human development goals, a recessionary phase has been a major setback. Despite all sectors opening up and the economy resuming post lockdown, unemployment continues to be a major concern. According to latest data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the national unemployment rate was at a six month high of 9.06%. On the other hand, the rural unemployment rate was also pegged at a high of 9.15%.
Evidently, re-opening of the economy has not been sufficient to ensure adequate job opportunities and resumption of work for millions of people. In rural India, which saw a massive reverse migration post the lockdown, the demand for the work under the MNREGA scheme has surged in recent months, indicating that rural workers are facing paucity of work opportunities. Data shows that demand for work by households under MNREGA increased by as much as 55.4% in December 2020.
As we await India’s first post COVID budget, it is essential that Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman lays top priority on job creation and boosting entrepreneurial activity particularly in rural India to engineer an economic revival.
Boost micro enterprises across rural and small town India
More than ever before, today is the need for inducing a new entrepreneurial energy in India’s small towns and villages. An entrepreneurial revolution needs an ecosystem that supports the formation and thriving of new business enterprises. For millions of people who are unable to find jobs, it is essential that adequate policy support is provided to enable them to start their own micro and small enterprises.
In rural areas where a majority of population is still dependent on agriculture, it is all the more important to promote non-agricultural activities and businesses. There are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurial pursuits in food processing, dairy, livestock, fisheries, warehousing and logistics. In addition, promoting non-agricultural pursuits such as light manufacturing, handicrafts, retail, construction and financial services must be given impetus.
Awareness, business skilling and ease of starting business are key elements to nudge rural youth towards entrepreneurial activities. There is need to create skilled and aware entrepreneurs who can exploit those opportunities. Providing business skill training to rural youth and making micro credit easily available are essential elements to enable a rural entrepreneurial revolution. The government must announce dedicated measures towards this endeavour including setting up of promotional agencies for entrepreneurial development, instituting single window clearances and making micro credit available easily.
Generate job opportunities in sustainable energy
Globally, the increasing realization that unsustainable human lifestyles are pushing the human race progressively towards catastrophe has given a new impetus to sustainable development. Investing in sustainable energy is one essential element of sustainable development. India has already set itself the ambitious target of having around 60 per cent of its energy from clean sources by 2030. Rural India which has availability of sufficient land and access to abundant sun, wind as well as biomass is ripe ground for setting up multiple renewable energy projects. India needs to promote setting up of renewable energy enterprises in rural India and set the target of meeting rural India’s energy requirements from renewable energy. Promoting setting up of small but numerous energy projects using solar, wind and biomass energy will not only make rural India self-sufficient in energy but will also generate plenty of work opportunities in the hinterland. Setting up rainwater harvesting projects across rural areas is another useful intervention that will not only generate work opportunities in the short term but also help replenish India’s depleting underground water resources over the long term.
Boost manufacturing and exports
India has been one of the engines of the global economy and India’s economic revival is critical to the global economy as well. Over the past year, the Government has created hope in the economy through its Aatma NirbharBharat initiative that seeks to boost local manufacturing and production. This initiative must be supported by strong measures to boost entrepreneurial capacity and boost Indian manufacturing by making exports competitive. The Government must create a competitive tariff structure that favours imports of raw materials over imports of finished goods. A difficult taxation system is a bane for entrepreneurs. It is high time that the GST structure is made less complex and ease of taxation is improved particularly for MSMEs to make tax compliance easier and simpler.
Business skilling programmes
While there is a lot of entrepreneurial energy in the country, what is lacking is sufficient support to wantrepreneurs and small entrepreneurs in the form of business training and skilling. This paucity is felt particularly more in rural areas and small towns. The Government must also lay due focus on making business training programmes accessible to a large population in the country. Affordable, easily accessible and readily consumable business training modules are key to help millions of youth convert their latent entrepreneurial ability into action.