- It is universally acknowledged how successful the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has turned out to be in ensuring the rural workforce is assured a minimum number of workdays. The scheme rolled out during the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has been no less than a resounding success in rural India catering to the poor on the lookout for guaranteed employment. The scheme largely caters to infrastructure development projects which came in handy during the pandemic-induced lockdowns. But for the MGNREGA, millions of migrant workers would have endured even more challenging times during those harrowing months. Now, there are reports of replicating the scheme for the urban workforce too.
- As widely mentioned in newspapers, shortly after a report from the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) that recommended the rollout of an urban employment guarantee program, Rajasthan launched its own version of the scheme. As you are aware, there is enough traction available for the political class in the scheme to not only consolidate their assiduously cultivated vote banks but also leave an impression on the populace looking out for dignified sustenance. Of course, India is not new to state-level urban jobs programmes as Kerala launched one over a decade ago. Moreover, the advent of the pandemic built up cross-party support for it, and a few other states also followed suit.
- For the uninitiated, this idea gained momentum last year at the Union level when the parliamentary standing committee on labour recommended it. Besides Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and Himachal Pradesh have a shorter experience in the area. Now, there’s a strong case for the Union Government to join in for two key reasons. In India, CMIE jobs data shows that monthly unemployment has fluctuated between 6.56% and 11.84% over a year, with urban employment exceeding rural in 10 of those months. At India’s stage of development, this is relatively high, particularly in urban centres. Second, state-level initiatives are geographically limited and also at a nascent stage. Some innovative ideas are par for the course move.
PC: WIFR Newsroom
- Yes, it is difficult to gauge how useful they are for workers from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal – states that were destinations for more than 60% of the 11.4 million returning migrant workers during the first lockdown. Importantly, as in the case of the Union Government’s health insurance scheme that was synchronized with similar state-level initiatives, it’s possible to design an overarching national urban employment guarantee programme as well. That leaves two key questions, on cost and design which should not pose much challenge vis-à-vis annual budget allocation for approximately 20 million workers with wages fixed at Rs. 300 a day. For a start, public institutions could be used initially to introduce the scheme instead of going all out. Make no mistake, urban employment guarantee plan can help those hit by recent economic shocks quite effectively. The scheme should be replicated for urban workers sooner than later.