The country needs a framework for a universal social security net

Source: Live Mint

Relevance: Social protection schemes protect the vulnerable sections of society. Exclusion from them increases the vulnerability.

Synopsis: Despite multiple laws and numerous judicial orders, a majority of unorganized-sector workers are excluded from schemes meant to protect them.

  • Recently, India’s Supreme Court passed several orders on a suo moto writ petition on the misery of migrant labourers.
  • The Court ordered the time-bound implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONOR) scheme by 31 July 2021.
  • The court had also ordered an update of the list of beneficiaries under the NFSA Act.
  • Further, it has highlighted in detail that the problem is not the absence of legislation, but the way our schemes are being implemented.
What are the challenges in the implementation of social protection schemes?
  • First, ONOR the flagship scheme of the government is faced with operationalization problems. For example, the failure of biometric identification, the absence of e-Point of Sale machines, and the ambiguity in entitlement across states.
    • This has resulted in the exclusion of beneficiaries and hardship for those exercising their entitlement under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
  • Second, exclusion errors under NFSA.
    • Currently, the beneficiaries are decided based on population estimates of 2011 and need to take into account India’s increase in population.
    • Based on Census 2011, the total number of eligible beneficiaries should be 813.5 million.
    • However, actual beneficiaries stood at 805.5 million in May 2017, hat is 20 million less than the eligible count even by the Census 2011 estimates.
    • Further, using population projections for 2021 suggests that around 100 million beneficiaries have been excluded.
  • Three, large number of people being denied NFSA rations as there’s no mechanism to identify beneficiaries.
    • The existing list has largely been derived from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) survey conducted during 2011-12.
    • While this survey is a better source than the earlier Below Poverty Line (BPL) census of 2002, its quality varies across regions.
    • It is generally more robust in rural areas, but unreliable in urban areas.
    • For instance, its methodology of beneficiary identification in urban areas is ambiguous and has large errors of exclusion.
  • Fourth, exclusion errors due to the absence of updated survey data.
    • NFSA’s original design required the SECC to be updated at regular intervals with full-scale surveys every five years.
    • But given the government’s track record on statistical data and surveys, there is little likelihood of this happening.
Way forward: Universalize NFSA benefits for the next year.
  • The manner in which various legislated provisions and schemes are implemented tends to exclude a significant section of India’s population.
  • Hence, there is a need for laws on social protection that are universal and accessible to every worker, irrespective of place of residence or work.
  • Such a framework for universal social protection should not just comprise a set of legislations, but also have the requisite flexibility and political will to be of aid to every citizen of the country at all times.
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