The story so far: The Indira Gandhi Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme has rolled out in Rajasthan with the objective of providing economic support to the poor and needy families living in the cities through work to be provided on demand for 100 days in a year. The Congress government has touted it as the country's biggest scheme to give guaranteed jobs to the people residing in cities, on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for villagers started by the UPA government at the Centre in 2006.
Those in the age group of 18 to 60 years residing within the limits of urban local bodies are eligible to demand and get employment in the identified segments. There is no income limit, though the poor and destitute people, especially those who lost their livelihood during the pandemic, will be given preference. More than 3.5 lakh people across the State have got themselves registered under the scheme so far and job cards have been issued to 2.25 lakh of them.
A budgetary provision of ₹800 crore, announced by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in the State Assembly earlier this year, has been made for the scheme in 2022-23. At least 50 persons in each ward of urban local bodies will be given employment and the work permitted under the scheme will be approved and executed through committees at the State, district and local body levels. The State government will also reward the municipal bodies doing good work under the scheme. The cost of material and the payment for the labour for work of general nature will be in the ratio of 25:75 and will vary for special work which needs technical expertise. The State government’s Department of Local Bodies will be responsible for the scheme’s implementation.
The tasks to be carried out under the scheme have been clubbed mainly under eight heads. The first is environment protection, which will involve tree plantation at public places, maintenance of parks and watering plants on footpaths and dividers. The next is water conservation, where the tasks may be allotted for cleanliness and improvement of ponds, lakes and stepwells, construction, repair and cleaning of rain water harvesting structures and restoration of water sources. Other categories are heritage conservation, removal of encroachments and illegal boards, hoardings and banners, stopping defacement of property and service-related works.
As part of convergence, the people engaged under the employment guarantee scheme can be employed elsewhere in other schemes, already having a material component, which require the labour. Eligible people will get work such as tree plantation, cleaning ponds, collecting garbage from door to door and segregating it and catching stray animals. Apart from all these categories, the State government can add new tasks or amend the ones already included in the list. A Jan Aadhar card, introduced by the State government, or its registration slip will be required for registration, which can be done at e-Mitra centres. While more than 31,000 muster rolls have been issued for the work, the wages will be paid at the rate of ₹259 a day to unskilled labourers and ₹283 a day to skilled labourers. The 'mates' or supervisors on top of the labourers will get ₹271 a day. Livelihood rights activists feel that though the scheme would help reduce distress among the urban population, the ultimate test of its success will be to ensure that it improves the wage rate in the labour market, which was one of the major contributions of MGNREGA.
The Congress government has tried to reach out to large sections of the population with the launch of the scheme and has sought to make an emotional connect by naming it after the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While experts have opined that the labour force participation rate's gap between the rural and urban areas is widening, a few other schemes, including the payment of unemployment allowance, are already operative in the State. The latest initiative may benefit the ruling Congress in the run-up to the 2023 State Assembly election, as the party will highlight it as a major step to address the plight of urban poor, which had not received much attention earlier. The identification of unemployed youths in urban areas may require an approach different from the one adopted in the villages for MGNREGA. Besides, the kind of jobs provided under the scheme will be different than those in the rural areas and will need a more skilled workforce. The scheme may turn out to be a game changer for the people who lost their jobs in the pandemic and are struggling to make ends meet amid high inflation.
The Rajasthan government has prepared the employment guarantee programme after studying similar such schemes operative in other States. Several States are looking favourably towards an urban version of MGNREGA. These schemes include the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme in Kerala, Urban Wage Employment Initiative under UNNATI in Odisha, Mukhya Mantri Shramik Yojana in Jharkhand and Mukhya Mantri Yuva Swabhiman Yojana in Madhya Pradesh.
The Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana was launched as a Centrally-sponsored scheme in 1997 to provide gainful employment to the urban unemployed and underemployed poor by encouraging them to set up self-employment ventures and through the provision of wage employment. The scheme was replaced with the National Urban Livelihoods Mission in 2013. However, neither of the two was an employment guarantee scheme.
The demand for a job guarantee scheme in the cities is increasing because of the growing distress among the urban poor, higher unemployment rates in urban areas in comparison with villages, the persistently high inflation affecting the people and the prevalence of low-wage and poor quality informal work in urban areas. Moreover, as against the rural unemployment being mostly seasonal, unemployed people in the cities face problems throughout the year.