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Economists call for urban jobs scheme

Livelihood matters:A file photo of workers engaged in desilting work at a village in Visakhapatnam.K.R. DEEPAKK_R_DEEPAK

Livelihood matters:A file photo of workers engaged in desilting work at a village in Visakhapatnam.K.R. DEEPAKK_R_DEEPAK  

Social activists urge Centre to expand MGNREGA funding, work limits to mitigate fallout of COVID-19

A new Urban Employment Guarantee Act is needed to complement the existing rural jobs scheme during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, said a group of development activists and economists.

In a letter sent to Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, they have asked for MGNREGA funding to be increased to at least Rs. 1 lakh crore for the next three months, noting that the scheme already has the infrastructure in place to respond to the unprecedented unemployment crisis.

The group has also recommended relaxation of the 100 days of work per household limit, suggesting that all individuals who wish to work under the scheme be given employment for as many days as needed, up to the full year.

Given that a large number of migrants returning from cities to villages as a result of the lockdown would desperately need work but may not have MGNREGA job cards, the group suggested that anyone wanting work should be given a job, with card registration made available on site.

Signatories to the letter include economists Jean Dreze, Jayati Ghosh and Reetika Khera, activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women, as well as Swaraj Party president Yogendra Yadav.

The economists also asked for full minimum wages in cash, as well as dry rations, to be paid to workers within seven days rather than the current 15-day limit, so that the scheme can meet the needs of people. Biometric based payment systems should be avoided for now, they said, noting that bank account payments would only cause overcrowding in rural banks.

People prevented from working during the pandemic due to medical advisories including those aged over 50, disabled and sick, and pregnant women, should be paid full wages for the duration of the restrictions, the group recommended. The signatories also urged that rather than stopping MGNREGA work throughout districts declared to be in the red zone, decisions should instead be taken block-wise.

With regard to an urban jobs programme, the letter’s signatories noted that a significant number of migrants were returning to small towns and had lost their livelihoods.

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