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House panel seeks urban job scheme, cash transfers in Covid-like situations

The parliamentary committee has also noted that the Ministry of Labour delayed responding to the migrant crisis when Covid struck.

Written by Harikishan Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: August 4, 2021 8:28:13 am
Outside a Kolkata hospital, Tuesday. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Observing that the plight of urban poor has not got much attention from the government, the Standing Committee on Labour has recommended an MNREGS-like job guarantee scheme for them and cash transfer to informal workers during adverse conditions like Covid-19.

In its report on the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Rising Unemployment and Loss of Jobs/ Livelihoods in Organised and Unorganised Sectors’, tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the parliamentary committee has also noted that the Ministry of Labour delayed responding to the migrant crisis when Covid struck.

“When the entire nation was witnessing (the) heart-rending sight of lakhs of migrant workers walking back to their native places helplessly without anything to fall back on, the Committee finds it surprising that the Ministry waited for as long as two months, i.e. until June 2020, to write to the state governments, and that too after (being) goaded by the Supreme Court, to collect the much needed, detailed data (on) migrant workers,” says the committee, headed by BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab.

Noting that the delay “speaks volumes of the inaction/delayed action on the part of the Ministry at that specific point of never-experienced crisis”, notwithstanding steps taken by both the Centre and states later, the report says, “The Committee, therefore, exhorts the Ministry to take suo-motu cognizance of such unprecedented crisis without waiting for the judiciary…”

Neither the Centre nor states and Union territories “are doing any favour in the provision of welfare measures to the people in distress… they are duty bound to do so”, the committee notes, asking the government to strive for systemic improvements in the implementation of schemes to truly benefit people.

One of the suggestions of the panel is putting money in the accounts of informal workers during adverse conditions like Covid-19. “Offering another round of income support to the poor to compensate for loss of jobs/employment incurred due to the two lockdowns imposed would go a long way in mitigating their woes,” the committee says.

It suggests increasing maximum days of work guaranteed unde MNREGS from 100 days to 200 and mandatory health insurance to workers “by suitably amending payment schedule”.

“Moreover, there is an imperative need for putting in place an Employment Guarantee Programme for the urban workforce in line with MGNREGA,” the report says.

It also suggests converting loans granted to street vendors under the PM-SVANidhi Scheme to direct cash grants and keeping detailed records of them for provision of relief and rehabilitation in crises. It says cash grants would enable the vendors to “restart their income activity in a regular manner”.

Under the PM-SVANidhi scheme, street vendors can avail a working capital loan of Rs 10,000. As on Tuesday, an amount of Rs 2278.29 crore has been disbursed to 23 lakh beneficiaries under the scheme.

The committee advises the Centre to “leverage their monitoring and coordination mechanism” to ensure “statutory compliance by all the stakeholders” in states and Union territories of its advisories and guidelines regarding helping migrant workers and empowering them.

The committee also notes that informal workers in rural and urban areas have been hit the most due to the pandemic, because of the seasonality of their employment and lack of formal employee-employer relationship.

“The consequential effects on loss of jobs, rising unemployment, indebtedness, nutrition, health and education of unorganised workers and their family members have the potential to cast a long shadow and irreparable damage,” the committee says, calling formalising the sector, increasing its productivity, strengthening existing livelihoods, creating new opportunities and fortifying social security measures major thrust areas to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

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