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Social security net could be Modi govt’s route to protect unorganised workers

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Migrant workers (representational image) | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Migrant workers (representational image) | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint


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New Delhi: Anticipating huge increase in unemployment numbers after the Covid-19 crisis, the Narendra Modi government is working on a proposal to provide a social security net to unorganised sector workers, ThePrint has learnt.

The labour ministry is discussing a move to provide minimum social security measures like health insurance, public provident fund (PPF) benefits, cash incentive to people working as domestic help, guards, taxi drivers, rickshaw puller and contract labourers, who don’t come under any such cover.

Due to the budget session of Parliament being curtailed, the government did not move the Labour Code Bill, which proposed to provide a safety net to unorganised sector workers. But a labour ministry official told ThePrint that the government may now bring in an ordinance, or use the existing framework for the purpose.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has asked the government for a new national policy on migrant workers.

BMS president Saji Narayanan told ThePrint: “Existing laws are not helping unorganised migrant workers. Several state laws are old and outdated. We have requested the central government for a new national policy on migrant workers.

“There should be policy framework for identification of migrant workers, and a national identity card. The ID card should be portable, because workers move from state to state for work, so that benefit should continue in other states.”

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began and a nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb its spread, around 24 lakh migrant workers are living in state-run relief camps. An additional 54 lakh workers have been provided food by the central and state governments, while NGOs have fed over 30 lakh workers, according to data submitted by the Union home ministry to the Supreme Court in first week of April.

“Several crores of workers are unemployed due to the lockdown, and there is no guarantee that everybody will be back in the employment chain. The government should take lessons from this crisis for a better policy framework,” Narayanan said.


Also read: ‘At least Modi is feeding us’ — migrants, poor say lockdown is tough but give PM a thumbs up


Mapping has begun

The labour ministry official, who didn’t wish to be named, told ThePrint: “The proposal under discussion is to provide safety net to inter-state migrant workers, who are stranded in several states. Discussions about providing incentive to this section are at an advance stage.”

The official added: “It may come under the finance ministry’s sectoral package for workers. It will cover all these unorganised sector workers and labourers.”

The official also said the ordinance route is only one of the options under consideration. “One of the options is to bring in an ordinance, and another is to give incentives through the existing framework,” he said, adding that the government has held several rounds of discussions in the last two weeks, and the issue is under active consideration of the finance ministry.

The official said the labour ministry has begun mapping migrant workers stranded in states from the first week of April — names, addresses, Aadhaar numbers and bank account details of more than 20 lakh migrant workers has been collected so far, while a few states are yet to respond.

Data of domestic workers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, and autorickshaw drivers is also being collected. “States are providing relief, and more central incentives are in the pipeline,” he said.


Also read: 5 ‘R’s that can prevent another migrant workers’ crisis like Covid-19


Parliamentary committee recommendation

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour had recommended in February that unorganised migrant labourers should be part of the Labour Code Bill and inter-state migrant labourers should be given benefit of social security, just like organised sector workers.

The original bill said the code would not apply to contract workers of the central and state governments. However, the committee recommended covering around 50 crore unorganised workers.

Bhartruhari Mahtab, Lok Sabha MP from the Biju Janata Dal and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, told ThePrint that it was up to the government to bring in an ordinance or wait for the monsoon session of Parliament.

“We have recommended including migrant workers under the social security net, just like organised workers. We have asked the government to register unorganised workers through state governments and labour commissioners,” he said.

“The most challenging part is identification and registration. The workers come into the cities through some agency,” Mahtab said.

“It is up to the government to decide whether to bring in an ordinance or wait for the monsoon session. The urgent need is to help the workers,” he said.

The BJD MP stressed the need for a sectoral package for MSMEs and the unorganised sector.

“Coronavirus has shown cities are a burden on rural India, and there is need for city-specific administration and planning for better future of migrants and other citizens. Over-centralisation of power in states and the Centre is not helping citizens in the long run,” Mahtab said.


Also read: Rotis, mobile recharges, carrom boards — how Kerala fixed its migrant worker anger


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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