Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, recently published policy brief “Strengthening Towns through Sustainable Employment”, which propose the creation of a National Urban Employment Guarantee Programme.
Need of Urban Employment Guarantee Programme
According to Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the unemployment problem is aggravated in India especially in cities and towns. In the context of the present employment crises, it is worthwhile considering to introduce an employment guarantee programme in urban areas. The scheme, which is similar to MGNREGS, would provide minimum livelihood security to the poorest of the poor in the urban areas.
Centrally funded programmes like the Smart Cities Mission and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) have disproportionately focused on development of bigger towns and cities. Such program helps in the development of small cities and towns
Brief history of urban employment schemes
While cities and towns do not yet have an equivalent of MGNREGA, India has a history of urban employment schemes. Unlike MGNREGA, India’s urban employment schemes were not demand-driven and only a set of identified beneficiaries could avail their benefits.
- Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) launched in 1997 provided employment to the unemployed and underemployed urban poor through self-employment and wage employment.
- The SJSRY was replaced by the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) in 2013. This programme, and its subsequent version, laid more emphasis on self-employment and entrepreneurship than on wage employment.
• Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS): Since 2010, Kerala has been running a programme called the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS) which guarantees 100 days of wage-employment to an urban household for manual work.
• Green New Deal: In the United States of America, ‘Green New Deal’ proposals provide for a ‘Green Job Guarantee’ which enshrines ‘a legal right that obligates the federal government to provide a job for anyone who asks for one and to pay them a liveable wage’.
The proposed programme seeks to address the following key problems
- Such a programme would give urban residents a statutory right to work and thereby ensure the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- It increases demand by raising incomes directly, and indirectly in the informal sector, by improving the fallback position of workers
- Address issue of Underemployment and low wages in the informal urban workforce
- Check migration to large cities from small and medium towns
- Such programme can bring in much-needed public investment in towns to improve the quality of urban infrastructure and services
- Prevent ecological degradation of urban spaces
- Employment guarantee enables people to contribute productively to the creation of useful public goods and services.
- Increase Migration from Rural to Urban areas: A potential problem with an employment guarantee programme for urban areas is that it may increase migration from rural areas.
- Identification of beneficiary: It would be difficult to prove domicile status as per state laws as well as identification of actual beneficiary
- Fund: Successful implementation of scheme require huge fund. This may create extra burden on state and centre
- Different from MGNREGA: Urban unemployment is different from rural. In urban area unemployment is primarily among skilled and semi-skilled
This is on a line similar to the highly successful programmes on urban livelihoods in China and some developed nations in the West. It is high time that we followed suit.
The basic premise of a healthy rural to urban economic transformation is to transfer workers from low-skill and low-productivity professions to high-skill jobs. It would be extremely difficult for an urban employment guarantee scheme to ensure this. The few steps involved in the rollout of such a programme are:
- Passage of a National Urban Employment Guarantee Act – This Act will legally bind the state to provide a fixed number of days of work for all eligible people who apply under the programme, lay down the governance structure for administering the programme, and provide accountability mechanisms for its operation.
- Creation of a Ministry of Employment – This programme be administered by a newly created Ministry of Employment under the Government of India. Such a Ministry will be responsible for all matters related to employment generation including the administration of MGNREGA.
- Establishing functionaries for administering the programme – The Central and state governments have to hire, through an open process, a set of dedicated staff who are responsible for administering this programme as well as staff responsible for accountability measures under this programme.