Kerala state, which accounts for 1.18 per cent (38863 square kilometres) of the total land area of India, accommodates 3.1 per cent (34 million) of the Indian population. The development experience of Kerala is characterised by high social development disproportionate to the level of economic growth2. The experience, often described as the Kerala model of development, has received world wide attention from both scholars and development agencies. The achievements of Kerala, going at least by macro level indicators of social development, have exceeded those of other Indian states3 and some of the developed countries. The state is ranked first among the states in India on the basis of human development index and rural social development index. The state has also been successful in reducing poverty which is 13.7 per cent and 14.7 per cent in rural and urban areas respectively in 2004-05 while the corresponding figures for India was 28.7 per cent and 25.9 per cent (Tendulkar, 2009). The state’s development pattern also indicates relatively low inequalities in health and education outcomes. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen cites Kerala as a case of support led security as against the growth mediated security.
Keywords: welfare schemes, migrants, Development scenario
The achievements of Kerala are often located by Sen and others in the historical processes including the social reform movements, activities of missionaries and the church, mass mobilizations of the poor and the working class for their rights, public action and political activism. Decentralization of government conferring more autonomy and powers to local governments and provision for peoples’ participation in planning at the local level are the recent political initiatives in the State for giving more voice to the people. In India, social security is listed in the Directive Principles of State Policy and is one of the subjects in the Concurrent List in the Constitution of India, which is federal in nature. Kerala state has been a front runner among the states in India in initiating social security schemes for different vulnerable sections of the society. These schemes, implemented mainly through different welfare boards, have been successful in extending social security to a limited extent to majority of the vulnerable groups. Extending the coverage of social security net to workers in the unorganised sector is identified as one of the major priorities of the state government (Government of Kerala, 2009).
The state government introduced a welfare scheme for the migrant workers on the May Day of 2010. Under the scheme titled ‘Inter State Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme’, a membership card is issued to each migrant worker who gets enrolled. Each registered worker would get up to Rs. 25,000 as healthcare assistance for in-patient care in empanelled hospitals in case of accidents or chronic diseases. However, the worker is eligible to get only Rs. 100 per day and the maximum limit fixed per episode of disease is Rs. 2000. If the labourers become incapable of undertaking jobs for more than six months due to accidents or chronic diseases, they are eligible to get a special assistance of up to Rs. 25000. The labourers who have registered in the scheme continuously for three years are also eligible to enjoy a retirement benefit of Rs. 1000 per year subject to a minimum of Rs. 10,000 and a maximum of Rs. 25,000. Financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 50,000 in the event of death in accident at work site and Rs. 10,000 in the event of natural death is provided to the dependents of the migrant labourers. An additional assistance of Rs. 5000 to Rs. 15000 (depending on the distance to the state of origin) is also given for transporting the body to their native places. There is also a provision for assistance of Rs.3,000 per annum for the education of the children of migrant labourers who are studying beyond Class X in Kerala. The scheme is implemented through the Kerala Construction Workers Welfare Fund Board which is also running a scheme for the welfare of the construction workers. The migrant worker will be required to pay an annual contribution of just Rs. 30. The Welfare Board, which is financed mainly from the cess on construction activities, will credit twice that amount in her/his account. The government will provide the rest of the money needed for the welfare measures. The welfare fund package is in addition to the assistance available to inter-State migrant workers under the Inter State Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act and the rules framed under it. The welfare fund scheme would be monitored by an advisory committee chaired by the State Labour Commissioner and comprising representatives of various trade unions.
The scheme, though pioneering, has certain inherent weaknesses. The programme targets to enrol half a million workers which is much lower than the total number of migrant workers in the state. That the actual number of workers registered in the first 18 months of its existence is only about 18000 indicate that most of the migrant workers remain outside the protective umbrella. One reason for the failure to enrol most of the migrant workers is the lack of awareness about the welfare scheme among the target group.
Sectors of Employment: The striking aspect of the DML(Domestic migrant Labourers) in Kerala is that they have come to fill almost all occupations and sectors of the economy. A look at T able 5 and the observation that almost all cells have entries is enough to substantiate it. The train survey over two weeks, a small window to the world of DML, was enough to testify it. Their largest concentration is in the booming construction sector with 60% reporting it Manufacturing, Hotel and Restaurants and Trade too report substantive numbers. Interestingly, Kerala agriculture has also become dependent on migrant labour. The others group contains a multitude of sectors. Thus, Kerala economy is driven by the large DML.
THE UNORGANISED WORKERS’ SOCIAL SECURITY ACT:
The UWSSA requires the Centre or state government to constitute Social Security Boards with three-year tenures and frame schemes for life, disability, health, maternity, old age pension, injury, and other benefits to workers. These boards and schemes are to be funded jointly or independently by both the Centre and states. Importantly, state governments are supposed to set up facilitation centres for workers, as part of which the district administrations are required to register every unorganised worker on a self-declaration basis. These registered workers are then supposed to be issued smart portable identity cards with unique identification numbers.
However, this important process has been shoddily implemented ever since the act into effect, on 16 May, 2009. At first, on 18 August 2009, the Centre formed the National Social Security Board. Thereafter, the annual reports for 2011-12, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 merely state that the board has been constituted. There is no elaboration of its functioning, except the 2015-16 report, which mentions eight meetings of the board took place. None of the annual reports specify any developments regarding registration of unorganised workers.
On 25 December 2015, the government of Gujarat launched a portable benefits card under the Act, named the Unorganised Workers Identification Number (U-WIN), on a pilot basis. It was meant to serve as the model for the entire country to provide benefits to workers under schemes such as Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana.
But in 2016, the Labour Ministry’s proposal for a card for each family of migrant workers (later changed to a card for each migrant worker) was rejected by the Finance Ministry on account of the expenses it would entail. The Information Technology Ministry also turned the proposal down on grounds of duplication with the Aadhaar project. It was reported in April that year that the Ministry of Labour had determined that Aadhaar numbers (combined with existing individual departmental access and validation systems) will be “used to deliver” social security services to unorganised workers. The Labour Ministry projected a budget of ₹6,000 crore for the cards and ₹7,000-14,000 crore for the facilitation centres.
In January 2018, the Labour Ministry, apparently satisfied with the pilot project, announced its intention to register 470 million [47 crore] unorganised workers and providing them with the U-WIN card that would be seeded with Aadhaar. It also considered bringing the workers under the EPFO and ESIC coverage. The Labour Ministry floated a bid for this purpose on 12 June 2018, while admitting the absence of a centralised national database of unorganised workers. It was reported that the ministry therefore accepted the need to build a social security delivery platform that brought various schemes for unorganised workers together.
In other words, U-WIN was supposed to become part of a comprehensive and well-thought-out social security plan of action. Again, in January this year, talk of a digital database to facilitate seamless payments under any scheme to unorganised workers cropped up. Eventually, nothing happened and the workers suffered during the pandemic.
INTER-STATE MIGRANT WORKMEN ACT, 1979:
Another utterly ignored law, ISMWA, provides an elaborate framework for formalising employment of inter-state migrant workers. It provides for mandatory registration of all principal employers who have five or more inter-state migrants as workers and prohibits employers from hiring such migrants without securing a registration certificate. Licensing officers are supposed to be appointed under this law to investigate the granting, revocation, suspension and amendment of licenses even to contractors who employ five or more inter-state workers. The rules for employment of inter-state workers require both employers and contractors to fill several administrative forms. If they had been complied with, these forms would have provided a rich database of employers, contractors and workers themselves.
Both the National Commission on Rural Labour, 1991, and the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS, 2006-10) flayed the government for “tardy” implementation of the ISMWA. The rate of formalisation of contractors and principal employers via licenses and registrations was found to be “poor”, the prosecution rates were seen as “very weak” and resulting in “persistent vulnerability” of unskilled and poor migrant workers.
Unlike the NCEUS, the National Commission on Rural Labour had made elaborate and specific recommendations for reforms of the ISMWA. For example, it said that a national migration policy must be framed, that the law must be effectively administered, temporary ration cards had to be given to inter-state migrant workers, and many other provisions. But no government paid attention to these. Therefore, despite a central law and an elaborate labour administrative framework involving numerous forms, registers and returns, when COVID-19 struck India, migrants were forced to flee their host states while state governments stared at blank sheets of papers where statistics on migrant workers were supposed to be. This author’s search on the Labour Bureau’s website for even annual reports detailing the workings of the ISMWA proved fruitless.
The Chief Labour Commissioner’s office replied to an RTI seeking statistics on migrant workers filed by an activist on 21 April, with a cryptic bureaucratic response, which also speaks volumes about the implementation of ISMWA: “As per the stat section is concerned, no such details are available based on requisite information,” the Labour Commissioner’s office replied. In early June this year, the chief labour commissioner’s office released some incomplete data. During a hearing on 30 June, the Delhi government itself submitted before the Delhi High Court that not a single worker has been registered under the ISMWA. Further, there was no registration in the Shram Suvidha Portal, the supposed unified portal for filing and registering labour and employment documentation. The High Court observed the “dire need” for a mechanism to register migrant workers in the June hearing. Yet, months after the painful social and economic experiences of millions of workers, the government still has not collected data on workers who migrated, or lost their jobs or died—as the Labour Minister told Parliament during the ongoing Monsoon Session.
Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996:
The government, after considerable pressure from workers’ organisations [specifically the National Campaign Committee on Construction Labour] enacted the BOCW Act and the BOCW Cess Act in 1996. The BOCWA also provides for an elaborate machinery of advisory committees and expert committees, and welfare boards to be set up by states, other than registration and licensing officers, et al. It seeks to ensure comprehensive welfare of registered construction workers, including regulation of their hours of work, overtime pay, good conditions of work, and temporary free accommodation, etc.
In turn, the Cess Act contemplates collection of a 1-2% levy on the cost of construction to “augment” the coffers of the welfare boards. Section 22 of the Cess Act details the causes for which the fund must be used by the boards. These include accidents, pensions, loans for construction of houses, group insurance, financial assistance for children of beneficiaries, medical assistance for major ailments of beneficiaries or their dependents, maternity benefits etc. But the administration of the BOCWA is also a disaster. Workers simply end up not registering because of documentation issues. They are supposed to secure a record of their being employed, while their contractors/employers do not want to formally accept having employed them in order to avoid legal liabilities and “bureaucratic procedures”.
Workers also find it difficult to secure identity cards, Aadhaar cards, and do not want to lose their wages while they spend time getting registered. The foremost reason for lack of registration is that if they do not pay any contribution for two years, they would lose the registration altogether. Construction workers are least likely to be unionised. Hence, they lack institutional assistance. They are also most likely to be inter-state migrants, which makes the already complex procedures even more cumbersome for them.
Since most state governments and Union Territories did not even constitute welfare boards as stipulated in the laws, in 2006, the National Campaign Committee on Construction Labour filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court directed the central and the state governments to frame and notify rules for the Act, set up the boards and advisory committees, and ensure regular meetings. But still state governments did not spend the money collected under the Act on the welfare of construction workers and instead sought to divert the funds elsewhere, for which the judiciary pulled them up.
In April 2015, the Bombay High Court directed the government of Maharashtra to spend the cess that had been collected for construction worker’s welfare only. Interestingly, it asked the state to consider maintaining a database of construction workers and tackle issues concerning migrant workers.
On 15 March 2018, the Supreme Court lashed out at states in these words: “…this Court has issued a series of directions since May 2008. This Court was compelled to do so since even twelve years after the enactment of the BOCW Act, the basic statutory mandates had not been carried out by the State Governments and Union Territories.” The Court directed agencies to strengthen registration, cess collection, frame a composite welfare scheme, constitute bodies as per the act, issue identity cards, etc. It noted, “There are more than 4.5 crore building and construction workers in the country and earlier about 2.15 crore had been registered and as of now about 2.8 crores have been registered. How these figures have been arrived at is anybody’s guess. In any event, the registration of building and construction workers is well below the required number and is also a guesstimate”.
According to the Standing Committee on Labour, by 31 March 2017, ₹32,633 crore cess was collected, while ₹7,517 crore was spent. But the Comptroller and Auditor General cites different figures: ₹26,137 crore collected and ₹26,009 crore spent. The Supreme Court observed, caustically, “…it is quite shocking that even the CAG does not have all the figures and whatever figures are available, may not be reliable… there is undoubtedly a financial mess in this area and this chaos has been existing since 1996. The only victims of this extremely unfortunate state of affairs and official apathy are construction workers who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities.”
These strictures should have disciplined the labour administration but, sadly, they have not. As figure 1 shows, 24 of the 36 states and UTs (all not shown) had not spent half of the collected cess as on 24 June 2019. Further, only five states had spent more than three-fourths. Surprisingly, Kerala spent more than it had collected.
The initiative of the state government to institute a welfare scheme for migrant workers, in spite of its weaknesses, needs to be appreciated. It also indicates that the visibility of this ‘invisible people’ has increased in administration and governance aspects in the state. The state government, in the future, may have to think about constituting a separate mechanism to implement the scheme as presently the scheme is faced with constraints due to inadequate personnel. Currently, the staff of the Construction Welfare Fund Board is implementing this additional scheme with out any change in the staffing pattern. They are also constrained because of the nonavailability of vehicles and other facilities necessary for undertaking the field work. It is also important that the representatives of the migrant labourers are present in the monitoring committee. Kerala, a state known for participatory democracy, can not shed its responsibilities to involve the beneficiaries in the implementation of the scheme