Telangana's Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development KT Rama Rao has urged the Union government to introduce a MGNREGS-like scheme for urban poor to strengthen social security measures in urban areas. In a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the state Minister requested her to announce a National Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (NUEGS) in the ensuing budget speech on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to help urban poor in the country.
He said that with the support of the employee guarantee scheme in urban areas, the government can provide job cards like in rural areas and take their services in urban environment protection by engaging them in city level green action plan and in basic infra works like laying pavements and other repair and maintenance works.
Stating that urbanisation is a global trend and India is no exception, the Telangana Minister pointed out that urbanisation in India is mostly the result of absence of livelihood in rural areas, that results in exodus or in-migration to urban areas.
"The unavoidable outcome is increased slums and urbanisation of poverty. As per 2011 Census, 31% of the Indian population or about 380 million people live in urban areas. This is a six fold increase from mere 62 million in 1951. This number is estimated to increase to about 600 million by the year 2030, by which time 40% of the Indian population will live in urban areas. Some states like Telangana are witnessing an even faster pace of urbanisation and the urban population in these states is poised to cross the 50% mark in near future," wrote KTR, as the minister is popularly known.
According to him, the nature of urban poverty poses distinct challenges for housing, water, sanitation, health, education, social security, livelihoods, and the special needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children and the ageing.
KTR mentioned that COVID-19 pandemic has brought to fore the sufferings of urban poor, especially the migrant labour, who constitute a major chunk of urban poor.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate in urban India is 9.4% and among the urban youth of the 15-29 years age group, it has rose to 19.2% and 21.1%, respectively, in the pre-lockdown periods of October-December, 2019 and January-March, 2021 respectively. The pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have impacted the urban poor, especially the migrant labour more than any other segment in terms of loss of livelihoods.
He cited the report of Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) which says that 90% of workers were in the informal sector, which is 419 million of the 465 million workers.
Its quarterly bulletin for April-June 2020 says that the unemployment rate in urban areas for those above 15 years jumped to 20.8% from 9.15 in January-March 2020.
The majority urban poor in the country work in the unorganised (informal) sector of the economy with irregular salaries, no written job contracts, often get their jobs through job contractors and subcontractors with no social protection. It was evident during the lockdown imposed in the country. Numerous reports and surveys have revealed that urban informal sector workers were the worst hit by loss of employment during the lockdown, he added.