Learning from MGNREGA while designing an Urban Right to Work
The COVID 19 pandemic continues to be a serious public health issue and has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of crores of people. As in most cases, those most affected include workers, agricultural labour, small and marginal farmers, old age pensioners, widows, the differently abled, slum dwellers, the homeless and other such vulnerable communities. In the absence of any comparable urban social safety net, migrant workers were forced to undertake treacherous journeys spanning thousands of kilometres in order to reach their native villages. Locally resident urban poor have also been forced to fall back on selling vegetables and resorting to any available means of livelihood. A survey conducted by Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment in collaboration with ten civil society organizations found that 8 out of 10 respondents in urban areas lost work during the national lockdown, as compared to 6 out of 10 in rural areas. The full report can be found at this link.
Several other surveys have found similar results. The pandemic and the lockdown have exposed the long existing vulnerabilities facing India’s urban poor and therefore we believe the time is ripe to conceptualise and implement a national urban right to work. Even though workers’ groups have long been campaigning for such a programme, the discussions were re-galvanized amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has had a disproportionately high impact on the livelihoods and earnings of the urban poor. In the renewed public discourse on the need for an urban right to work, what are the lessons that we can learn from the implementation of MGNREGA over the past 15 years? There has been an unprecedented uptake of MGNREGA merely in the past six months. 85 lakh new job cards have been issued since April 2020, roughly a 22% increase in the number of new job cards compared to the last 5 years. Nearly 5.8 crore households have got work under NREGA since April, 2020, whereas on average, the number of households that worked in NREGA in the last 5 years is 5.2 crore. In spite of this performance, and in spite of MGNREGA being allocated its highest ever budgetary allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore, 1.55 crore persons who have demanded work have still not got work. There are innumerable lessons that can and ought to be learnt from MGNREGA in our collective vision and advocacy for an Urban Right to Work. This webinar looks to do exactly that.