As many as 1.75 lakh people in Gujarat have enrolled for the Central government’s assured monthly pension scheme, since registrations began five days ago.
The contributory scheme, Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan (PMSYM), announced in the interim Union Budget in February, assures a monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to unorganised workers enrolled for it, as they are not covered by other pension schemes.
Why unorganised workers are politically important
Unorganised workers, particularly in urban areas, have always been a focus for the BJP government in the state, and there is a reason for it. Months before the Assembly elections in 2017, the BJP government had launched Shramik Annapurna Yojana, a subsidised meal scheme for urban workers. There are also Shramik Suraksha Accident Insurance Scheme and U-WIN (Unorganised Worker Identification Number). Unorganised workers constitute about 90% workforce in the state. According to the government’s 2016 data, there are around 87 lakh unorganised labourers, mostly migrants from north and east India, who work in textile and diamond factories and are enrolled as voters here. The migrant workers determine the results in a good number of Assembly and Lok Sabha seats, particularly in urban Surat.
Prime Minister Narendra will formally inaugurate the scheme during his visit to Ahmedabad on March 4.
Gujarat has topped the number of registrations in these past five days among all the states, as the total enrolment figure for the entire country stood at 5.56 lakh by Saturday evening. More numbers are expected to be added to the tally in the continuous registration process.
Domestic helps, rickshaw pullers, brick-kiln workers, rag pickers, mid-day meal workers, head loaders, agriculture workers, construction labourers, beedi workers and others, including street vendors, of the ages 18 to 40, who earn less than Rs 15,000 per month, are to contribute an amount varying between Rs 55 per month to Rs 200, the increase corresponding with age. The government will match the contribution. Once the worker reaches the age of 60, he or she stops contributing to the scheme and the government disburses Rs 3,000 every month to them.
Registration for the scheme began in all the 29 states and seven Union Territories five days ago, with the Union Labour and Employment Ministry targeting at least 2 crore registrations every year, hoping to cover at least 10 crore unorganised workers within five years.
Principal Secretary (Labour and Employment) Vipul Mitra told The Sunday Express that civic centres and special registration windows had been opened by the Labour Department and other departments like the Regional Provident Fund office to facilitate the registration. Simplifying the process, the government accepts a self-declaration of income for registration.
The only condition is that the person should not be covered under the National Pension Scheme, the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation Scheme or the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme. Mitra hoped that their efforts would result in as many unorganised workers registering and benefiting from the scheme.
Assistant Provident Fund Commissioner Pratap Singh Rawat said the propensity of the state’s people to deposit savings in bank accounts was the primary reason for the high enrollment in the state. “As a large number of unorganised workers, including domestic helps, have saving bank accounts linked with their Aadhar card, it has quickened the process (of registration) in Gujarat,” he said.
While the PMSYM scheme has been lauded for making a provision for social security for unorganised workers who have no means of sustenance in their old age, there are concerns that those enrolled would struggle to pay the monthly contribution.
Gujarat Domestic and Construction Workers Union Ashok Punjabi says that 80 per cent of unorganised workers don’t even earn the minimum wage for unskilled workers of Rs 312 in the state. According to him, there are 42 crore unorganised workers in the country.
He was critical of the pension scheme, calling it the prime minister’s “lollipop” to the workers, targeted at drawing votes for the upcoming general elections. “Most of the unorganised workers are illiterate. Expecting them to open bank accounts and linking them with the Aadhar card and mobile phones is foolish,” said Punjabi. “Moreover, the pension starts after 60 years of age and is not practicable when a large number of such workers do not live to that age (as physical labour and poverty take a toll).”
He said the scheme did not take into account real-world situations. “It is unfortunate that all schemes in this country are prepared by babus (officials) unconnected with the real world,” he said. “Those working in the field should have been roped in to make the scheme practicable.”
Harinesh Pandya of Janpath who works among salt-pan workers pointed out that unorganised workers had short lifespans of 50 to 55 years, whereas the scheme’s benefits would kick in only after one turns 60. “What is the meaning of the scheme when the beneficiary or his spouse is not alive?… The age for receiving pension should be reduced to 50,” he said.
Vipul Pandya of Bandhkaam Mazdoor Sangathan (Construction Workers’ Union) pointed out another problem. “No one hires a construction worker if he is above 50 years old,” he said.
“Moreover, unorganised workers don’t get work 365 days a year and hence to expect them to save for pension contribution is illogical,” he added.