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Modi govt looking to set up social security fund to support migrant workers

The government could also set up a special purpose vehicle to implement the fund, but there's no clarity yet on the size of the fund.

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New Delhi: A social security fund to cater specifically to migrants working in the unorganised sector is among the measures that the Narendra Modi government is considering to help lakhs of migrants, who were left without jobs following the Covid lockdown. 

Senior officials at the Union labour ministry have been holding meetings with finance ministry officials to discuss a proposal in this regard.

“It’s one of the schemes that is on the discussion table. There is no clarity as yet on the size of the fund,” said a senior government official familiar with the matter.

A second official said a special purpose vehicle (SPV) could be set up to implement the proposal.

Idea not new

Setting up a social security fund and an SPV to implement it, is, however, not a new idea altogether. 

The Code of Social Security, 2019, a consolidation of various laws related to social security of employees, which is pending before Parliament, has provisions for constituting a social security fund to help workers in the unorganised sector on matter relating to life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, housing, old age protection, etc.

The fund, according to the draft social security code, could be completely funded by the Centre or the Centre and states could jointly share it.

The social security code also has an enabling provision of constituting an SPV for implementing the fund. But the code is presently being reviewed by the parliamentary standing committee on labour.

“After the panel submits its report, the draft bill will have to be cleared by the cabinet if any new suggestion is incorporated before it is introduced in the Parliament again. This will take some time. But there is a realisation in the government that there is a need to come up with some immediate measures to aid the migrants, a majority of who work in the unorganised sector and lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. That is why there is a thinking going on in the government if a social security scheme can be launched soon,” said the first official quoted above.

Also read: Direct cash transfer best way to help poor in Covid crisis. If Modi govt can’t do it, let us

Panel meeting on social security code in June-end 

Senior BJD MP Bhartuhari Mahtab, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on labour, which is reviewing the social security code, told ThePrint a meeting of the panel has been called on 26 June.

“Earlier, we had called a meeting in the first week of June. Fifty per cent of the committee members had given their consent to attend the meeting in Delhi. But it had to be called off as the labour secretary had to go under home-quarantine after his personal secretary tested positive for Covid-19,” he said.

Mahtab said the Centre could constitute a social security fund if it wants, but he is not sure about its legal tenability. “The social security code is before the Parliament and has not been cleared as yet,” he said.

Growing concern over migrant crisis      

The Centre had earlier informed the Supreme Court that until 3 June, nearly one crore migrant workers had reached their home states. 

With the influx of migrants, some of the states like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, are facing huge challenges in ensuring livelihood for them. 

“Though the Centre has allocated an additional Rs 40,000 crore under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), it won’t be enough to meet the requirement,” said a third government official.

“Also, MGNREGA will only take care of the migrants who have returned to rural areas. Scores of migrants who are in urban areas do not have any source of income. There is a growing concern not only among the states, but the Centre too, and they realise that this section will need support from the government to make ends meet,” he added.

The official further said the biggest challenge that the government is facing at present is the absence of a real-time database of the total number of migrant workers, who have returned to different states.

The central government has taken several steps so far to help the migrants — from enhancing the allocation for MGNREGA, to announcing free ration for all migrant workers who have returned to their home states irrespective of whether they have ration cards or not.

The Prime Minister’s Office has also earmarked Rs 1,000 crore from the PM-CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund for migrant workers.   

“But it is not enough to meet the livelihood requirements of the lakhs of returning migrants,” a senior government official in one of the northern states told ThePrint.

Also read: Home Ministry asks states to prevent mass exodus of migrant workers amid Covid-19 lockdown


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