May 12, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we debate whether the e-Shram online portal will help workers in the unorganised sector. We also look at the high instances of untouchability in Tamil Nadu, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
e-Shram – Success or Failure?
One thing’s evident with the current government, they love going digital. Bringing as many people as possible on board seems to be the mantra. The digital drive by the government is to ensure that citizens can access essential services and avail of necessary benefits with ease.
Here’s where the e-Shram portal comes in. The government wants to bridge the gap in unorganised workers’ ability to access social welfare and employment benefits. Has the portal been a success so far? While it has helped bring many in the unorganised sector on board, some say it’s an incomplete product.
“Power to Empower” – it’s the motto of the government’s Digital India campaign. Broadly speaking, the government wants to ensure that its services are electronically available to citizens through online infrastructure. It has three components – the development of a secure and stable digital infrastructure, delivering government services digitally, and universal digital literacy.
When the BJP came to power in 2014, it wasted no time instituting many reforms and new policies. Digital India was no exception. It launched in July 2015 and has schemes like BharatNet, Make in India, and Startup India under its umbrella.
Before the e-Shram portal was launched, the government decided to issue an Unorganized Workers’ Identification Number (UWIN) without a smart card. In 2017, the Ministry of Labour and Employment proposed the idea. The government invited bids to create a national platform for unorganised workers in the following year. In December 2020, the ministry sought help from other ministries to create a new database by June 2021. It missed that deadline, which the Supreme Court wasn’t happy about.
Finally, last August, the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment launched a national database to register unorganised workers, called the e-Shram portal. States and Union Territories use this to register unorganised workers, domestic workers, and construction and migrant workers to ensure they can avail the welfare schemes meant for them. By the end of November 2021, 91 million registered with the portal.
Who is an unorganised worker? Per the Social Security Code, an unorganised worker is a home-based worker, self-employed, or anyone employed in a sector not covered by the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. For example, cobblers, tailors, landless labourers, and construction workers come under the definition.
There isn’t consistent and exact data on the number of unorganised workers in India. Per the Periodic Labour Force Survey Annual Report 2019-’20, the unorganised sector represents 81% of the workforce. A 2017-18 government report stated employment in the organised and unorganised sectors was 47 crores. Of this, 37 crore people were employed in the latter. According to the 2019-20 Economic Survey, it’s 38 crores. Per a 2021 report from Azim Premji University, it could be 41.5 crores.
The portal was, in many ways, a response to the migrant crisis that happened during the first national lockdown due to the pandemic. It laid bare the lack of any social security or accurate data on unorganised workers.
VIEW: Bridging the gap for a large workforce
Historically, unorganised workers have remained outside the scope of employment-related benefits. At its core, the e-Shram portal is a welcome move to bring systematic changes to the way benefits and services are delivered. It facilitates the expansion of the definition of ‘worker’ and enables the inclusion of people who were otherwise excluded, like domestic and migrant workers.
A study from the National Human Rights Commission released in October 2020 stated the benefits of many central schemes didn’t reach interstate migrant workers. The pandemic exasperated the plight of migrant workers as millions decided to travel back to their hometowns. The survey showed that access to benefits ranged from 0.5% to 27.5%. The reason being in Delhi and three other states where the study was conducted, only a fraction of migrant workers were registered with the relevant authorities.
While providing cash benefits during the lockdown in 2020, the government estimated there were 2 crore construction workers and they were among the most vulnerable in the unorganised sector. There was some concern about women being left out due to the digital divide between men and women. However, one striking aspect of the portal is that more women have registered than men. Per the latest data, a little over 52% of those registered are women. This is a positive sign for women participating in the workforce.
COUNTERVIEW: Confusion, ambiguity, and digital literacy issues
The government’s Digital India mission is certainly ambitious. However, the mission and its components are based on a flawed principle that technology can liberate human beings. Nissim Mannathukkaren from Dalhousie University argued that India’s democracy hasn’t become stronger just because more Indians have smartphones now than ever before. Given it’s a database for collecting personal information, workers need to be educated about their data and privacy rights, which in itself is lacking in India.
While the numbers are impressive concerning registrations, the ground reality is different. The fact that an Aadhaar-linked mobile number is necessary is a challenge for migrant workers. They move from state to state and don’t often have a permanent mobile number. They change service providers based on what suits them in a particular state. There are also cases where multiple people use the same phone since they live in a shared space. Currently, only three people can register with the same number.
Then there’s the digital literacy issue. Those who are above 60 might get excluded as people in low-income groups don’t have the luxury of retirement. The categorisations for some workers are ambiguous. For example, a helper at a construction site isn’t in the portal. The helper category is only reserved for garment workers. The portal’s aim was to collect data on migrant workers, but the majority of those registered aren’t migrants. Even concerning the actual benefits, beyond the ₹2 lakh accidental insurance, there’s nothing more on what’s next regarding the expansion of social benefits.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) e-Shram portal will help the workers in the unorganised sector.
b) e-Shram portal will not help the workers in the unorganised sector.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Tackling India’s communalism challenges will require constitutional reform
For the Left:
The second India-Nordic Summit: Why it is a win-win proposition for all
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Developing panchayats (Arunachal Pradesh) – The state’s Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Bamang Felix said that the government is totally committed to properly establishing local self-governance for its people. Right now, a 30-member team of panchayat members are on a trip to Kerala for exposure. The idea is that the members would pick up good panchayat practices and implement them in the state.
Why it matters: The State Institute of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj (SIRD&PR) organised the exposure and training visit that will get the members to spend a week at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA). This team is the training programme’s first batch and another four teams are scheduled to go in the coming months. The aim of the programme is to learn from the best performing states in the country.
Promoting sports (Uttar Pradesh) – On Tuesday, the State Cabinet cleared the proposal that allowed sportspeople from UP to become gazetted officers. From now on, a sportsperson from the state that has won medals at the Asian Games, Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games or the World Cup will qualify for such posts. 24 posts across 9 departments have already been reserved for them.
Why it matters: According to Cabinet Minister Suresh Khanna, this has been done to promote sports in the state. The scheme will now be available to any sportsperson that has won their medals after 1 September 2020. The departments that will recruit the winners are those of secondary and basic education, home, panchayati raj, youth welfare, transport revenue, and forest and rural development.
Controversy over ASI report (Odisha) – The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) submitted their affidavit to the Orissa High Court stating that the excavation going on by the 12th century Jagannath Temple is possibly harmful to the temple. It also said that the ₹800 crore-Shree Mandir Parikrama Project was not sanctioned by any proper authority. Now, the Opposition parties in the state have banded together to attack the ruling government.
Why it matters: Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958, it is mandatory to get the ASI’s approval before taking on any construction projects around a monument. According to officials, the construction called for the removal of 15-20 feet stratified deposit that has caused irreparable damage to the temple. The construction is happening in prohibited and regulated areas of the monument.
More leaves for mothers (Madhya Pradesh) – According to the High Court, a woman that works for the state government is eligible for third maternity leave. This is only applicable to women that have divorced their first husband and have conceived in their new marriage. According to a petition filed, a woman should be entitled to more than just two maternity leaves if she has remarried.
Why it matters: Normally, maternity leave is only sanctioned twice for government employees. For Central employees, there is a formal provision of 15 days of paternity leave. Compared to this, women working for state-run institutions get 26 weeks of paid maternity leave which happens to be one of the longest in the world. This is as per the Maternity (Amendment) Act, 2017.
High instances of untouchability (Tamil Nadu) – Responding to a Right to Information (RTI) query, it has been found that a whopping 445 villages in the state still follow untouchability. It was ascertained that 445 villages were prone to atrocities and 341 villages were tagged as dormant atrocity prone. This means that instances of untouchability were reported in this area in the past and have not popped up recently.
Why it matters: While Madurai is supposed to have the most number of atrocity prone areas in the state, even Chennai came out with 1 atrocity prone place and 3 dormant atrocity prone areas. Despite Madurai coming in with 43 atrocity prone villages, only 1 social justice awareness meeting was held in 2022. Even the NCRB data corroborates this information as it shows an increase in crimes against scheduled communities in the state.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
19% – Despite the government declaring India free of open defecation in 2019, the NFHS-5 found that 19% of households do not use any toilet facilities. It also mentioned that open defecation in the country did reduce as the percentage used to be 39% in 2015-16.