While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guarantees 100 days of work to any rural household that chooses to avail of it, there is no similar pan-India scheme for urban areas. The Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University has now proposed the creation of a National Urban Employment Guarantee Programme in a policy paper titled 'Strengthening Towns through Sustainable Employment'. With elections around the corner, talk of such a scheme has been doing the rounds- the new government in Madhya Pradesh, in February this year, announced a 100-day urban job guarantee scheme. Such schemes are seen to be better than doles because it is demand-driven and could result in the creation of public assets.
Azim Premji University's policy paper suggests the pan-India scheme cover towns with population less than one million. There are about 4,000 such towns with 126 million people of working age. Workers with varying levels of formal education upto standard 12 would be eligible for 100 days of guaranteed employment a year at Rs 500 per day. The paper also suggests "150 contiguous days of training and apprenticeship at a stipend of Rs 13,000 per month for educated youth".
The proposed programme, the paper states, seeks to address "underemployment and low wages in informal workforce, migration to large cities from small towns, poor quality of urban infrastructure and public services, ecological degradation, shortage of human and financial capacities of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), unemployment and lack of skills among the educated youth".
The programme could run alongside MGNREGA and the authors of the policy paper (Amit Basole, Mathew Idiculla, Rajendran Narayanan, Harini Nagendra, and Seema Mundoli) appear to be influenced by the success of the rural scheme. "Critics of the programme argue that it is a waste of resources. However, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. In spite of the programme functioning at half its 100-day guarantee (average number of days worked per household has been around 45 days for the last five years) and despite the implementation challenges, it has had a far-reaching impact", they write. Positive outcomes of MGNREGA include an increase in rural incomes, gender and caste effects, community empowerment, and quality asset creation.
Here is their thinking on the budget that would be required, the work, and how to go about administering it:
Budget: The total estimated programme budget would range between 1.7 per cent and 2.7 per cent of GDP depending on whether employment is guaranteed to one adult from every household or every adult resident. The writers estimate that between 30 to 50 million workers in India's small towns would be eligible for employment through this programme. "The total budgetary requirement will have three components- labour, material, and administrative cost. We propose a 60:40 ratio, that is, 60 per cent of the total budgetary allocation would be labour cost and 40 per cent would be a combination of material and administrative cost. Labour costs should be split between the Centre and the states in a 80:20 ratio, while the non-labour costs would be shared between the Centre, the states, and the ULBs", the paper states.
Work to be undertaken: There is work we already know about that needs to get done- streets, footpaths, bridges, tunnels, etc. The policy paper, interestingly, mentions a range of emerging 'green jobs'. Creation, restoration, and maintenance of urban common spaces, green spaces and parks, forested or woody areas, rejuvenation of degraded or waste land, cleaning of water bodies (tanks, rivers, nullahs, lakes). "Work that can be undertaken here includes water conservation and harvesting, flood control, micro-irrigation, enhancing urban greenery, preventing coastal and hillside erosion, disaster management, enabling urban agriculture for subsistence and so on. These works will not only create jobs but will also improve the livelihoods of communities that are dependent on urban commons", the writers say.
Administration: The relevant ULB such as the Nagar Panchayat, Municipal Council, or Municipal Corporation, could be the principal authority responsible for administering the programme, the paper suggests. These bodies could be made responsible for identification of projects, preparation of annual works plans and implementation of the programme in a participatory manner by involving the ward committees and ward sabhas. The programme could be administered by a set of dedicated staff starting from the level of the Ward.
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