Parliament panel may recommend portal job cards, data on migrant workers

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, member of a household in villages can demand employment within five kilometers of the village where she resides
A Parliamentary standing committee is likely to present a road map by mid-September on improving the conditions of migrant workers in which it may ask the government to give portable job cards to them, along with a database to keep a count of such workers.

According to people in the know, the Standing Committee on Labour, chaired by Biju Janata Dal  MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, has been holding meetings with various ministries of the central government to frame a “plan and programme for the migrant workers”, the most affected section of the working class during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The issue of portability of job cards was discussed with the rural development ministry. It’s an important aspect as the workers should be allowed to work outside their states, too,” an official said, requesting anonymity as the proceedings of the Parliamentary standing committees are meant to be confidential.

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, a member of a household in villages can demand employment within five kilometres of the village where she resides. In some cases, employment can be provided outside the five km radius and workers are paid additional 10 per cent wages for meeting logistical expenditure.

The standing committee is particularly upset about the fact that the government has not maintained proper datasets to estimate the number of migrant workers in the country.

“The government keeps citing the Economic Survey of 2016-17 to state that there are an estimated 100 million migrant workers but it is not a foolproof estimate,” said the person quoted above. Labour ministry officials told the standing committee that an estimated 8 million workers travelled back to their native places after the nationwide lockdown.

“But the calculations weren’t convincing enough as it was based on data collated from the Indian Railways. During the lockdown, apart from migrants, a lot of students and other segments of the society took train journeys to travel,” said the person cited above.

The standing committee is also likely to be critical of the skills development ministry. “We asked the skills development ministry whether they have a plan in place to reskill the workers who have joined back work. It was discouraging to know that there are no programmes lined up in the near future,” the person said.

The next meeting on the standing committee, slated to be held on August 31 with the health ministry, will focus on the health aspect. “The committee wants to examine how the Ayushman Bharat Yojana is assisting the workers,” the person said. The standing committee is also planning to take the views of the external affairs ministry to understand the plight of migrant workers employed outside India.

The lockdown led a reverse migration with workers leaving cities back to their villages as industries were shut and paying off house rent or taking care of basic needs became a challenge, apart from health concerns. According to official estimates, 500,000-600,000 workers had to walk back home as public transportation was not available to them.

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