For workers in the unorganised sector, social security is an alien concept. But the government took a small step towards improving their lot on Monday by announcing the guidelines of a health insurance scheme for those who live below the poverty level or on Rs 12 per day.
Once implemented, the Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojana (RSBY) would cover 1.2 crore families, comprising husband, wife and three children, in the first year, beginning 2008.
The families would be covered for Rs 30,000 per year and they would access the insurance through smart cards. The card would hold good for migrating workers as well.
Under the scheme, all existing diseases would be covered. Hospitalisation, surgery and daycare services would also be covered. The Centre (75 per cent) and the State (25 per cent) would share the cost. "In the first year, the cost is expected to be Rs 751.50 crore. But provisioning for social welfare schemes will not derail fiscal deficit targets for this year and the next fiscal. We will adhere to the 3.3% target of fiscal deficit," said Finance Minister P Chidambaram while unveiling the programme, along with Labour Minster, Oscar Fernandes.
Chidambaram said that states would implement the scheme. Over the next six months, state governments are expected to finalise details of the scheme. They will identify hospitals, public and private and insurance providers. It would also be the responsibility of the state administration to verify the eligibility of BPL families.
Keeping in mind that there are nearly 40 crore workers in the unorganised sector, it is surely a small beginning. Also, about 80 per cent of these workers live on less than Rs 20 per day and are barely above the poverty line.
But Fernandes is hopeful. He said that the government first hopes to bring all BPL families under the scheme in the next five years. "Such a scheme has been in demand for the five to six decades and it is the first time that a health insurance scheme of this nature is being attempted," the labour minister said.
Labour Ministry sources said 18 states have agreed to implement the programme. “The northeastern state governments have not yet agreed, arguing that in all other schemes they pay 10% of the cost and why should they pay 25 per cent in this case. But discussions are on," a senior official said.