Modi govt’s answer to migrant workers, street vendors crisis too little, too late; this issue remains

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Updated: May 14, 2020 7:53 PM

How will the package reach the recipients when most of them are undocumented?

nirmala sitharaman, finance minister, migrant workers, economic package 2.0, street vendorsThe crisis has pointed out glaring shortcomings in not only understanding their needs and their roles in nation-building but also something more basic – complete lack of data.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today announced a slew of measures for migrant workers and street vendors; however, how effectively these steps will help the undocumented section can not be determined yet. FM Sitharaman introduced ‘one nation one ration card’ to enable migrant workers from any depot in the country on the same ration card, issued in any state. The workers’ family members’ Aadhar details will be seeded into the ration card, using technology and database. The government also decided to convert the government-funded housing in major cities to affordable rental housing complexes for urban poor migrants. Besides, the government has allowed the state government to use the disaster response fund to arrange food and shelter for the migrant workers, which will incur a cost of Rs 11,000 crore to the centre.

Considering the nationwide lockdown has caused the street vendors to earn a zero income, the government has announced a special credit facility of Rs 5,000 crore. Within a month, the centre will launch the scheme for 50 lakh street vendors. FM Sitharaman has pledged an initial working capital of Rs 10,000 for each street vendor. However, most of these vendors are unregistered, along with the migrant workers who frequently keep changing their jobs. This raises questions on the effectiveness of the government’s measures since data is hazy.

Too little, too late

“How will the package reach the recipients when most of them are undocumented? The modalities, it seems, haven’t been as thought out for it to truly be beneficial. This feels too little, too late,” Trinanjan Radhakrishnan, project coordinator, Oxfam India, told Financial Express Online. There are serious doubts about how the benefits will reach those who are most in need and for whom they are intended for, he added. The opacity and the invisibility of India’s informal workers seem to be a major hindrance in realising this goal, based on how ineffectual similar endeavours have been in the past, such as the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act (2008); hardly any worker possesses smart cards as per the Act, he further added.

Also Read: One nation, one ration card: Nandan Nilekani’s digital PDS scheme being carried forward by Modi govt

Lack of data 

Even as the government acknowledged that more needs to be done for the migrants, workers, street vendors, and other marginalised segments; unclear statistics have made the measures appear far from being pragmatic. “This crisis has pointed out glaring shortcomings in not only understanding their needs and their roles in nation-building but also something more basic – complete lack of data,” Partha Chatterjee, Dean – International Partnerships, Professor and Head of the Economics Department, Shiv Nadar University, told Financial Express Online.

Similarly, many other announcements today are welcome reforms, but those will take a long time for fruition, he added. Take for example the ARHC, it is much needed to ensure better living conditions, and some dignity, to workers, however, it is not going to happen soon, he added. Experts have pointed out similar shortcomings in the ideas of nationwide ration cards, saying that measures providing rations to even those who do not have ration cards will remain critical for some time to come.

Watch video: Modi’s Rs 20 lakh cr package: FM Sitharaman’s boost for MSMEs, EPF relief impressive

More employment options needed in urban areas

FM Sitharaman also said that 14.62 crore man-days of work has been increased, which is actually 40-50% more men enrolled, compared to last May. Hence, 2.33 crore more wage seekers can be engaged by the new move. Though the step has been mainly for the rural areas, similar steps in the urban areas were desirable too. The mention of 40% to 50% more people on-year enrolling in MNREGA this May has given an indication of the magnitude of unemployment in the country. Hence, after yesterday’s announcements about MSMEs to generate some jobs in urban areas, the demand for something like MNREGA in urban areas has taken a front seat, said Partha Chatterjee.

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