Oppn Common Minimum Programme may include urban job guarantee law
The common minimum programme or CMP being put together by some opposition parties ahead of the summer’s Lok Sabha elections may include an urban job guarantee scheme along the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)-like legislation, people with knowledge of the matter said on condition of anonymity.
The proposal comes amidst the Opposition’s criticism of the government after some members of a government statistics panel quit citing delays over releasing a report (the National Sample Survey Office’s employment survey for 2017-18) that said the unemployment rate has touched the highest level in 45 years.
Jobs, along with the agrarian crisis, are among the biggest economic issues likely to come up during the election campaign, analysts say.
“This is one of the many proposals under discussion to deal with the crisis on the jobs front,” said an opposition leader who is a part of the discussions to draft the CMP.
Unemployment, farm distress, internal security, and the fight against corruption will be key campaign issues for the opposition front in this summer’s elections, the leader added.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders have announced that they will keep the focus on people’s issues in their campaigning for the upcoming elections. At a meeting of leaders of several opposition parties on February 27, Gandhi and other leaders insisted that they stick to the narrative of jobs, farm crisis and corruption to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the elections.
“The CMP will not only highlight the seriousness of these critical issues but also attempt to offer solutions,” the leader quoted above said.
These issues were also high among the suggestions received by the Congress, which sought these for its manifesto for the coming elections.
Explaining the proposal, a Congress leader said a lot of public infrastructure needs to be built in urban areas and the idea is to create job opportunities for urban poor in a manner similar to MGNREGA, which is a demand-driven scheme.
A Congress leader admitted that the scheme may be difficult to implement in the metros.
“The plan is to address the problems of shortage of municipal staff across the country, and issues such as water protection, lake conservation, etc., which are being neglected. It will create jobs, not necessarily in big cities but in small towns and cities. In big cities, doing this will be a major challenge,” he said.
The Congress leader added that the move will provide an opportunity for people living in urban areas to acquire skill-sets.
“In small cities and towns, there is always a demand for public works and infrastructural interventions. Besides, it will also deal with migration, as the people will be close to their homes in villages and towns,” he said, expressing the hope that a job guarantee scheme could prevent people from small towns and cities seeking jobs in large cities.
The Congress-led UPA enacted MGNREGA in 2005 after coming to power in 2004 and extended the pilot programme to every district of the country in 2008. It is considered one of the reasons for the UPA’s return to power in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The rural employment guarantee scheme covers 691 districts and involves 116.5 million active workers across states.
The Opposition has said that unemployment has grown in the unorganised sector, especially after the government’s decision in November 2016 to recall highvalue currency notes that “choked” small and medium businesses and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which hit the unorganised sector again. “The Congress has spoken about an unemployment allowance, but we want to link it to certain kind of jobs or asset creation. The urban employment guarantee programme is a step in that direction,” said a second opposition leader. “These suggestions have come up during consultations opposition leaders had with different stakeholders and civil society groups,” he added.
On January 28 in Raipur, Gandhi announced that his party would launch a minimum income guarantee scheme for every poor person in the country if his party came to power after the Lok Sabha elections.
“We are now taking a step which no government in the world has taken before. Congress party has decided to give every poor person a minimum income guarantee if the Congress is in power after 2019 [elections]. This means, each poor person in India will have minimum income and the money will be transferred into their bank accounts,” Gandhi said.
Pushpraj Deshpande, managing trustee and director of Samruddha Bharat Foundation, a platform founded to counter the systematic attacks on the Constitution of India, said his group has made a strong pitch before the opposition parties for an employment guarantee programme for the urban young.
Titled “Right to Urban Employment Guarantee”, the suggestion in its paper submitted to the opposition parties reads: “The State should strive to enact a National Urban Employment Guarantee Act (NUEGA). To provide employment within town or city limits to all those who demand it and thereby provide services to all residents, build our civic infrastructure, and restore the urban commons.” Such a legal guarantee will address unemployment in the educated labour force, create a better trained workforce, and also counter social problems, underemployment and low wages in the informal urban workforce, migration to large cities and towns from smaller towns, poor quality public goods and services and shortage of human and financial capacities of urban local bodies, the paper added.