The Congress wants the government to come out with a scheme like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) for urban workers at a time when their jobs are under threat because of the global recession. This will be part of a special package for skilled labour that it wants the government to announce in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
“The commerce ministry is working on a package of this kind,” said a Union Minister who did not wish to be named. Another well-placed leader said the party’s manifesto for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls may talk about enlarging the NREGS to cover unemployed workers in urban areas.
“There will, of course, be other packages from various ministries and, perhaps, a third stimulus package to ensure that the economy continues to grow,” he added.
The social, political and economic implications of growing unemployment — there are reports that 5 lakh jobs were lost between October and December, 2008 —just ahead of the general elections is beginning to worry the Congress.
The issue was high on the agenda of the February 7-8 meeting of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc), the party’s labour wing, in Surat where workers in the diamond industry have been hit by the cancellation of export orders.
“We’re asking the government to provide a special relief package, start some new employment generating projects and revive the economy through investments,” Intuc president Sanjeeva Reddy said.
He had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the issue about 20 days ago and intends to call on them shortly with Intuc’s wish list. The Congress, however, intends to only make commitments it can fulfill. And the party is drawing consolation from several pro-poor and pro-middle class decisions taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — like NREGS, the farm loan waivers and the recent fuel prices. Then, it is also drawing confidence from its assessment that the rural sector has not been too badly hit by the global recession.