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Modi govt needs 3-4 months to roll out database of migrant labour, SC asks why the delay

A comprehensive database of workers employed in unorganised sector was announced in the aftermath of the migrants' crisis last year and was supposed to be completed by June 2021.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government will require another three to four months to make the national database of unorganised workers operational, ThePrint has learnt.

According to government sources, setting up the database, which will have information on migrant workers across the country, has required extensive coordination with state governments for information on the workers. This coupled with the aggressive second wave of the pandemic delayed the venture, which was supposed to be completed by June this year.

The Ministry of Labour is setting up this online database at a cost of Rs 704 crore. It will have details of different social sector and welfare schemes run by the central and state governments targetting the unorganised sector workers. Besides this, the workers will also be able to avail of the benefits of these schemes by registering and applying through this portal.

The ministry also submitted details of the portal in its affidavit to the Supreme Court Friday, sources added.

In a suo motu case related to the migrant crisis amid the second wave, the SC had directed the central and state governments to expedite registration of unorganised sector workers, including migrants, on 24 May.

During a hearing on the matter Friday, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah that the portal will not only collate the data but will also have a tracking software to make sure the beneficiaries receive the benefits.

However, the court questioned the inordinate delay in rolling out the portal and pointed out that a sum of Rs 417 crore was released for the project by the finance ministry in October 2020.

“You simply had to prepare the mechanism and even that you have not managed to do in so many months,” the bench told the Centre.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta then intervened to pacify the court and admitted the timeline to ready the portal should be brought down. He assured the court he would communicate the same to the agencies working on it.

The SC bench has, meanwhile, reserved its orders on the issue.

Also read: Over 8 lakh migrant workers left Delhi in first 4 weeks of lockdown during 2nd wave

‘Dynamic and functional database’

The decision to set up a comprehensive database for workers employed in the unorganised sector was announced by the government in May 2020, in the aftermath of the migrants’ crisis that followed the imposition of the nationwide lockdown.

After the lockdown, several migrant workers lost their livelihoods and were left without shelter and food. While the Modi government did announce a slew of welfare schemes, including free ration and transfer of cash to the hardest-hit workers, several of those affected could not avail of the benefits.

A primary reason for this was the absence of a consolidated database of migrant and unorganised workers.

Consequently, the central government decided to set up a national portal containing the details of all such workers. The finance ministry approved the financing of the project in October 2020 and the National Informatics Centre, under the information technology ministry, is developing the portal.

While the portal was supposed to be completed by June this year, the central government in its affidavit blamed the second wave of the pandemic for the delay. It noted that several personnel associated with the project contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, officials in the labour ministry told ThePrint that setting up the database has been a massive exercise since it involves coordinating with all state governments for information related to the unorganised sector workers, which includes migrant, gig and platform workers.

There are approximately 40 crore workers in the informal sector, including 2-3 crore migrant workers, they noted.

“All information will have to be bio-authenticated and seeded with the Aadhar number of workers. We faced a lot of technological challenges and had to coordinate with multiple stakeholders like banks, UIDAI and National Payment Corporation of India,” a labour ministry official said.

Furthermore, a second official said that they want the database to be functional and dynamic.

“We want the database to be a functional, dynamic and useful database, which will be linked to a worker’s skill or job profile. It should be useful to both the employees and the employer,” the official told ThePrint.

Once the portal is launched, those who are part of the unorganised sector will have to self-register with relevant information like name, occupation, address, type of occupation, educational qualification, skill types and family details.

This is expected to allow optimum knowledge about their employability as well as help the workers avail benefits of social security schemes, labour ministry officials said.

They added that a migrant worker can either self-register through his or her mobile phone, or can also go to the nearest common service centre to register. A registration card will then be generated with a Unique Account Number of the worker.

Also read: CM Yediyurappa urged them to stay, but jobless migrants can’t — ‘there’s no food’ in Bengaluru

States to mobilise workers to register themselves

The labour ministry eventually plans to link the portal to different ministries for delivery of services.

Furthermore, the ministries involved in particular sectors will be able to transfer benefits directly to the migrant workers’ accounts.

Besides the portal, the labour ministry is also planning to set up an app, which will have all the information from the national database. “Those workers, who have smartphones and are tech savvy, could download the app, register and apply for availing benefits of schemes targeting them,” said a senior official in the labour ministry.

Once the portal is ready, states and Union Territories will carry out the registration of the unorganised workers through their district- and state-levels administrative machinery.

According to the ministry’s proposal, it will be the responsibility of the states and UTs to populate the data by mobilising unorganised workers to register on the portal through Common Service Centres, State Seva Kendras, Labour Facilitation Centers, Digital Seva Kendras under the Department of Post and other means.

The ministry also said that it was preparing a comprehensive action plan along with monthly measurable milestones to monitor the registration work in an effective manner.

Also read: US study shows how domestic travel ban to check Covid can lead to more cases, cites India data


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