The roll-out of a new overarching social security scheme for the country’s unorganised workers, the plan for which was revived last May in the backdrop of a nationwide strike call given by trade unions, is likely being given a quiet burial.
In May 2015, amid the possibility of a nationwide stir by trade unions looming large, the NDA government had announced plans to roll-out multiple facilities through new smart cards called U-WIN, or the unorganised workers’ identification number, a move that was aimed at blunting the anti-labour charge leveled against the Centre by both workers groups and opposition parties then.
Since then, there seems to have been a rethinking by the government on the initiative. A senior government official involved in the exercise confirmed that the Centre is re-examining the need to issue a separate smart card in the light of “the near universal coverage of Aadhaar”. “The central government is considering the delivery of the most public welfare benefits through Aadhaar enabled platforms and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology has been asked to prepare a policy on the delivery of various public services and social security schemes using Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Policy account and existing platforms without the issuance of new smart card,” the official said.
Officials said that since the Aadhaar numbers to migrant workers and uncovered population are being issued by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, both the Aadhaar number and existing individual departmental access and validation systems will be used to deliver various social safety services to unorganised sector workers. “It has been noted that the Aadhaar number was created as a universal unique identifier for each citizen and adding a U-WIN number would not only duplicate the work but may also introduce further problems in linking up with other databases which have already been linked with Aadhaar. In view of this, the central government is preparing IT-based Aadhaar linked platform for the delivery of various public services without the issuance of U-WIN number or a new smart card”. The labour ministry’s stand on the U-WIN cards has been communicated on these lines to the standing committee on Labour.
When contacted on the issue, Labour secretary Shankar Aggarwal, however, maintained that the plan to issue U-WIN cards “is still on” and that “we are working on building a common social security platform”. Other government officials that The Indian Express spoke to, however, confirmed that work relating to issuance of U-WIN cards has been withheld by the labour ministry as the Union government was preparing an IT-based Aadhaar linked platform for delivery of various public services, without the issuance of a new smart card. “Aadhaar numbers to migrant workers and uncovered population are being issued by Department of Electronics and Information Technology. Aadhaar Number and existing individual departmental access and validation systems will be used to deliver various social safety services to unorganised sector workers. It has been noted that the Aadhaar number was created as a universal unique identifier for each citizen and adding a U-WIN number would not only duplicate the work but may also introduce further problems in linking up with other databases which have already been linked with Aadhaar,” the official said.
The labour ministry had initiated action in 2014 for issuance of U-WIN cards within three years to the unorganised sector workers under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. Unorganised sector workers, who account for an estimated 82.7 per cent of the country’s total labour force, have largely been out of the ambit of labour regulations and most social schemes. The U-WIN card was being marketed as a starting point for the formulation of schemes to provide life and disability cover, including health and maternity benefits as well as old-age protection for unorganised sector workers. This had been a key demand of 12 central trade unions for a while now. Through the registration and issuance of U-WIN cards, the government also intended to create a central-level database of all unorganised sector workers in the country. Details of these workers are generally sketchy, which makes enrolling them for schemes difficult.
The cards were to be issued by the district administration of each state, which had been asked to prepare a roll-out plan. The project was proposed to be funded largely by the Centre and then subsequently be linked to Aadhaar and bank accounts.
The new cards were to ensure that all unorganised workers get social security scheme benefits covered under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. The aim was to provide primary, preventive and even secondary health services to unorganised workers, besides life insurance and pension, through this single card. The card, launched on December 25, 2014 in Gujarat on a pilot basis, was to eventually replace the earlier smart card issued under the Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojana.
As per latest data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, the country’s labour force comprises an estimated 48.37 crore people, of which 47.28 crore are said to be employed. The unorganised labour, according to NSSO estimates, accounts for nearly 83 per cent of the total labour force, including a significant share of workers engaged in low income generating activities.