The government on Thursday finally cleared its big-ticket legislation to cast a social security net that will prevent nearly 93 per cent of India's workforce from falling into destitution.
The legislation had been on the drawing board for nearly five years.
"This legislation will take care of the most vulnerable section in the unorganised sector," Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said on Thursday as he announced the Cabinet's approval to the Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill 2007.
The government further plans to issue identity cards to workers in the unorganised sector to help them avail social security benefits, Union Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes said on Thursday.
The identity cards, which are being called "smart cards", would be issued in a phased manner to about 36.9 crore workers in the unorganised sector.
The scheme, however, would take off only after the Unorganised Labour (Social Security) Bill is passed by Parliament.
The proposed card could be used by a worker anywhere in the country, as Fernandes said, "With this card, even if a worker moves from one place to another he can still make use of it." A labour ministry official said that the cards were made keeping in mind the migratory nature of workers in the unorganised sector. "To get the cards, the workers have to prove that they are above 18 and declare that they are in the unorganised sector,'' the official said.
Fernandes said that states and panchayats would be involved in the exercise of preparing and issuing these cards.
A 1999-2000 estimate by the government said nearly 93 per cent of India's 40 crore workforce was employed in the unorganised sector, a large proportion as agricultural labourers and in household industries.
Dasmunsi said a National Advisory Board constituted under the "revolutionary" law would be tasked with formulating and monitoring welfare schemes aimed at providing life and disability cover, health benefits and old age protection for the workers.
The Centre would bear the larger part of the financial burden that the schemes would entail but Dasmunsi did not put an estimated figure.