Time has come to ease migrant workers’ pain

By: |
March 8, 2021 5:50 AM

NITI’s draft good; supplement it with a pension scheme

Now, according to The Indian Express, the Niti Aayog has come up with a draft national policy on migrants, which not only suggests amendments to existing Acts to redefine who is a migrant, but also envisions setting up commissions in both source and destination states to aid migrants. (Representative image)Now, according to The Indian Express, the Niti Aayog has come up with a draft national policy on migrants, which not only suggests amendments to existing Acts to redefine who is a migrant, but also envisions setting up commissions in both source and destination states to aid migrants. (Representative image)

The pandemic showed up the gaps in governance support for migrant workers in a big way; the tragedy of the lockdown-exodus from India’s top cities to the hinterland could have been avoided if the right policies to support migrants were in place and implemented effectively. To be sure, some robust-in-principle policies had been in effect at the time—the one nation, one ration card (ONORC) programme and the Jan Aarogya Yojana, among others—but the on-ground gaps perhaps presented a daunting prospect for migrant workers with regards to dealing with lockdown uncertainties in the cities they worked in. Since then, both the Centre and state governments have fast-tracked delivery/plugged holes and launched many more schemes. Now, according to The Indian Express, the Niti Aayog has come up with a draft national policy on migrants, which not only suggests amendments to existing Acts to redefine who is a migrant, but also envisions setting up commissions in both source and destination states to aid migrants. While the draft policy is a consolidation of schemes already launched by various governments, such as linking of Aadhaar to create a register of migrant workers, skill development programmes for workers, etc, it also envisages a shift from a dole-approach to a rights-based framework. Instead of episodic or permanent economic or social aids, the draft proposes creating enabling conditions for migrants to thrive. For instance, in the case of education, it calls for the government to create a mechanism within the Right to Education wherein it can map children of migrants and facilitate teaching in their mother-tongue in destination-states. Portability for Ayushman Bharat benefits, voting rights, etc, also build into the rights-based approach—all steps in the right direction.

How much of this vision translates into ground-level implementation will determine the success of the policy, should the government adopt it. For perspective, as per government data, only 4%, or 4,000, of the 1 lakh people registered in FY21 received skills training. Similarly, the track record of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana speaks volume about the government’s inability to push skill development the way it was intended. Also, the government needs to focus on bringing migrants under pension protection. One option could be to look at an NPS-style scheme for migrants, as Gautam Bhardwaj and Sanjay Jain had proposed in this newspaper (bit.ly/3dX7IWn). Bhardwaj and Jain say that if a worker saves even Rs 20 per day from the age of 18-with their contribution rising by 5% a year to adjust for inflation and the government contributing Rs 5,000 per year for five years—it will lead to a pension corpus of over Rs 20 lakh by the time the worker turns 60. This, in turn, could provide a monthly pension of Rs 14,760 in the first year, rising to Rs 29,222 at the age of 75. A ‘pension-ised’ society, along with a rights-based support framework, is what migrants will need, more so as employment-paradigms shift with the fourth industrial revolution.

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