The government’s focus on building infrastructure will create jobs and revive economic growth, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said amid projections of a further shrinkage in the coming months on account of the covid-19 crisis.
The “most important thing", however, is to pay attention to small businesses and the development of villages, as well as backward and tribal areas, Gadkari said in an interview.
“Building infrastructure in areas such as water, power transport, and communication, will lead to setting up of industries, which will attract investment, create employment opportunities, and ultimately boost out gross domestic product (GDP) growth," said the minister.
“However, the most important thing is the development of the poor, villages, labourers and the farmers. We want growth in agriculture, rural and tribal areas. That’s where micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) play a huge role," said Gadkari, who is the minister for MSMEs, road transport and highways.
MSMEs, a major job creator and the backbone of the economy, contribute over 28% to India’s gross domestic product (GDP), account for more than 40% of exports and employ about 111 million people.
The minister said he aims to increase MSMEs’ contribution to 50% of GDP and share of exports to 60% and help the sector create 50 million jobs in five years.
In May, the government announced several measures to boost lending to small businesses hit by the nationwide lockdown.
Gadkari said the poor will be the “central focus point" and that the government aims to increase the turnover of village industries, and encourage medium scale units such as agro processing industries, food industries, handloom and handicrafts.
This will not only create jobs away from congested metros, but will also prevent a mass exodus of workers to urban areas in search of opportunities. “The idea is that the raw material produced by them should be used in the industries. This can prevent migration from villages to urban areas," he said.
“These workers are typically from educationally, socially, economically backward states and have moved to developed states and especially towards bigger cities such Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. “Most of them have moved to bigger cites out of compulsion. The ideal situation will be if they if they get jobs in their district, states… if they don’t find a job, some of them want to come back, they can," he said.
States such as Uttar Pradesh have been trying to help these returning workers find jobs, including work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Gadkari disagreed with the view that industry will not be able to function without migrant labourers. “About 80% of the works at national highways have already begun. Besides, these days, a lot of things are mechanized," he said.
A larger policy to deal with the problem of swelling sugar stocks is also in the works, he said. The government has been advocating manufacturing ethanol from sugar to deal with the surplus stock.
“Instead of producing (more) sugar, sugarcane juice can be used to make syrup, which can be converted into ethanol. Similarly, ethanol can be also derived from rice. By doing this, we can save on the import bill as ethanol can be used to run cars and buses. I have requested the Prime Minster to roll out a policy to produce ethanol from syrup and rice. Crores of farmers will get a better price for the sugarcane and the problem of surplus will not exist. Imports will go down, pollution will reduce and there will be job opportunities in the villages," the minister said.