We need to recognise and address the alarming plight of India’s 450 million internal migrants, who are vulnerable, mobile and worst of all – grossly overlooked. Several central and state government welfare schemes have been initiated to support these workers. Unfortunately, only few of these reach the workers and benefit them as intended. The enrolment disparity is wider in regions where these schemes are perhaps most required – migrant source states (those with the highest levels of internal migrants). Identifying the gaps in existing government schemes, Daily Wage Worker Platform, (an NGO supporting migrants), in collaboration with Mahashakti Foundation (a micro-finance rural empowerment NGO) launched Project Adhikaar. “The objective was to enroll 6,000 migrant workers in remote tribal districts of Odisha (a major source state) onto 3-5 state/central welfare schemes each. Four important key areas were identified – Social Security, Job Security, Food Security and Basic Documentation and covered by this project” said Jugal Kishore Pattnayak, Managing Director, Mahashakti Foundation. It was made possible with the financial support of Omidyar Network India. Daily Wage Worker Platform captured the lessons learnt from the field and developed policy recommendations to increase enrolment, effectiveness and impact of the schemes.
Two of the most underdeveloped districts in Odisha– Kalahandi and Balangir were chosen as the target areas. To grasp the status of migration and enrolment rates in these districts, a comprehensive baseline survey was developed. Between July and November 2021, 4755 migrant workers across the two districts were surveyed and the results were analysed in real time. “The survey revealed that while most respondents had basic documentation (72% of 4755) and were enrolled onto food security schemes (87% of 4755), only 13% were enrolled onto job security and just 1% onto social security schemes”, stated Siddhartha Prakash, Founder Daily Wage Worker Platform. Clearly, social security and employment schemes need to be prioritised.
Over the next five months, 6000+ migrant workers from Kalahandi and Balangir were enrolled onto 3-5 schemes each, taking the tally of enrolments to 25,244. Of these, more than 5,000 beneficiaries each were enrolled onto E-Shram (a recent initiative of the central government directly linking workers to 15 social security and employment schemes), Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana. Within five months, Project Adhikaar increased the penetration rates (in the regions covered) of PMSBY and PMJJBY by 18% and 16% respectively. In comparison, lesser number of enrolments were made in other schemes like MGNREGA, Madhu Babu Pension Yojana and Public Provident Fund due to reasons including (but not limited to) compulsory monetary contributions and rigid eligibility criteria.
The basic communication between the migrant workers and governments that are supporting them has to improve in order to address their concerns through these schemes effectively. For this purpose policy recommendations to improve the implementation of welfare schemes need to be formulated. They include: an increased focus on promoting local awareness of the schemes, lowering co-payments for insurance schemes and greater accountability of local officials. The government needs to address the data gaps and procedural barriers that limit workers access. They can obtain the migrant’s confidence by being transparent and communicating the long term benefits they will receive by trusting their schemes. At the same time, state level schemes such as Mission Shakti and Odisha Livelihood Mission need to be implemented in partnership with NGOs, panchayats and labour departments to secure local employment for migrants and their families. It also important to learn from and scale up best practices such as Chattisgarh’s Shram Mitra Scheme and the Delhi government’s establishment of welfare boards for construction workers.
While the recently created E-Shram portal has captured basic information about millions of workers across the country, the challenge is to integrate them into the 15 employment and welfare schemes promised. This requires coordination between the centre and states which can be enhanced by creating a national network for migrants support, improved data collection and monitoring. What migrant and daily wage workers need the most is a customized package of schemes to meet their immediate and long term needs. The lessons learnt and policy recommendations from Project Aadhikar can help the government to provide an effective social safety net to these vulnerable communities during the pandemic and beyond.
The Project Adhikaar report is now available for download here.