(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 14, 2010
Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme
THE state of Kerala is preparing to introduce an urban employment guarantee scheme in the state. The announcement came in the budget speech delivered in the Kerala Assembly on 5 March by the finance minister Dr Thomas Isaac. This was the fifth budget of V S Achuthanandan government. Like earlier budgets, this budget also pronounced LDF government’s pro poor attitude as well as its commitment to the all-round development of the state. It is worth mentioning about the decision to introduce Farmers Debt Relief Commission and Fishermen Debt Relief Commission in the earlier budgets. The decision to procure paddy for Rs 12 per kilogram, which is much higher than central government procurement price, and the decision to spend around Rs 500 crores annually to intervene in open market to control price rice are some examples of the pro poor policies of the government.
This new initiative regarding urban employment guarantee will surely be another path braking step for the entire country, especially an eye opener for the UPA government. The state government will start the scheme ‘Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme’ in the coming year itself. Ayyankali was the iconic social reformer who fought for human rights, especially for the downtrodden and dalits. Naming the scheme after Ayyankali therefore is a clear sign about the direction that the government is likely to take. The urban employment guarantee scheme is designed to address the unemployment and underemployment problems in the urban areas. It is proposed to be a right-based scheme parallel to the MGNREGS which covers only the rural areas. Nevertheless it cannot be a carbon copy of the rural programme. It will have to be sensitive to the nature of unemployment as well as underemployment problems in the urban areas. It will have provisions to address the problem of educated unemployed, which is likely to be more severe in urban areas. Similarly the assets that can be generated using the unemployed youth would be different in the urban areas. The budget earmarked rupees 2000 lakh for implementing it.
But the state governments cannot bear the huge expenses for such massive programmes because of the unequal division of resources in Indian system wherein a major portion of fiscal resources are kept in the hands of the central government. The recent Award of the 13th Finance Commission would further weaken the financial position of the state governments. On account of the decline in the state’s share in finance commission devolution, Kerala is likely to lose around rupees 5000 crores during the next five years. The criteria for distribution of resources adversely affect states such as Kerala which have good social and human development record.
The success of national rural employment guarantee scheme in states where it was implemented earnestly had given rise to the demand for extending the MGNREGS to Urban areas. The implementation of the scheme as a universal scheme, irrespective of rural and urban divide was the strong demand of Left at the time of the initial discussion itself. But the first UPA government was hesitant to accept the demand. Even the implementation of NREG in the present form has happened primarily because of the strong pressure of the Left which was supporting the UPA government.
The scheme provides for some help to the poor for sustaining their life in the midst of deprivation and misery caused by the anti-people policies. The imported global crisis and the resultant unemployment menace and price rice now compel the society to provide more protective measures to give some heeling touch to the deprived. The restriction of this paltry sum per person only to the rural poor is a clear case of discrimination. This discriminates the urban poor from their right to life with some minimum prerequisites of human life. The current scenario of Indian life is much different from early eighties and nineties. Because of the agriculture crisis and collapse of traditional sector, urbanisation is rampant now. The recent explosion of inter-state migration of labor force clearly tells this story. The percentage of urban population has increased substantially.
The extreme situation in the villages drives out the poor to the cities for their livelihood. On the other hand the poor living in the urban centers are facing a much difficult situation. In the absence of social and cultural connections typical of the village life, the urban poor is unprotected by all means. The recent economic crisis has thrown many of them into doldrums. To make the situation graver, the limited employment opportunities are further distributed for the new migrants. This results in further squeeze of urban employment.
The Bible story of distributing ‘Five Breads to Five Thousand people’ is not practical in the real life. The intervention of the State is needed here. It is not a charity act, but a sovereign responsibility of the State to protect its subjects. The government’s responsibility to provide living conditions to the citizens is an important ingredient of our constitution. Article 19 of the constitution guarantees the Right to Life. In the famous case, OligaTellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Supreme Court said that ‘The right to life is not merely the right to sleep under the bridge and beg over the street. It is the right to live with a decent livelihood.’ So it is the responsibility of the central government to protect the true spirit of the constitution. That means the initiatives like urban employment guarantee scheme should be implemented by them immediately. The Kerala’s Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme will accelerate the struggle to implement urban employment guarantee Act nationally.