After the BJP ruled states of Haryana and Karnataka, Maharashtra is now considering cash transfers for persuading migrant workers to stay back.
An expert panel set up by the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in the state has recommended direct bank transfers for the next three months for the entire labour force engaged in the unorganised sector. A state Cabinet sub-committee is expected to deliberate the move on Friday.
The recommendation comes at a time when industry captains have warned that ongoing reverse migration would hurt the pace of industry’s revival from the damage inflicted by the coronavirus lockdown. With Maharashtra being epicentre of COVID-19 infections in India, lakhs of stranded workers are desperate to return to their native villages even in the middle of the pandemic.
The 11-member expert committee, comprising senior serving and retired bureaucrats, which was set up by the state government early last month for suggesting ways to revive the state’s economy, has said in its report that the unorganised sector has been the worst-hit due to the lockdown.
“With the economic activity coming to a screeching halt during the lockdown, lakhs of daily wage earners have almost gone a month and a half without earning a single rupee. The livelihood of most workers is at stake. They need government’s financial support to survive,” the panel’s report states.
On April 18, the Chief Minister had dived into funds collected by the state-run Maharashtra Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, which collects one per cent cess from property developers for worker welfare measures, to announce a monthly cash handout of Rs 2,000 for three months to construction workers. But the panel has now recommended that the government should dip into its own kitty to comfort other unorganised workers including head loaders, house helps, and other daily-wage earners. It has said that even those who survive by begging alms should be considered as beneficiaries.
About 12 crore workers are engaged in Maharashtra’s urorganised sector, official statistics show. “The direct transfer will help them survive these difficult times. Free food packets and ration are good. But you need cash-in-hand for meeting the challenges,” a committee member said. Panel members also feel that the cash handouts may just persuade some of the migrant workers to stay back and facilitate the revival of the economy. Contending that help from community groups and ward or taluka level officials could be sought to register all beneficiaries, the panel has also suggested a simple web application format for the process.
Haryana was the first state to roll out cash transfer for the unorganised sector. After publicly urging stranded workers in his state to stay back, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, too, has announced cash doles for a section of the unorganised work force.
In Maharashtra, the Congress, a partner in the government, has already demanded a monthly “unemployment allowance” of Rs 5,000 a month for the next three months to the daily-wage workers. The party’s task force for COVID-19 control measures, headed by former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, has already recommended this measure to the government.
Meanwhile, for the MSME sector, the panel has recommended that the government should absorb 100 per cent interest on fresh capital loans for a six-month period. “MSMEs would need working capital to restart production. We are planning to request banks to give loans to raise it. We will bear the interest cost for six months,” a panel member said.
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