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The e-Shram portal holds valuable data on unorganised workers. Use it in policymaking and safety nets for internal migrants

The e-Shram portal is shaping up as a national database of unorganised workers. At the aggregated level it can help in policy making and at the individual level in ensuring direct targeting of insurance and assistance schemes. Ensuring there is no exclusion and keeping the data secure and updated is key

May 16, 2023 / 11:20 AM IST
'e-Shram Portal'

The 'e-Shram Portal' attempts to bring unorganised workers under one umbrella and claims to be the first-ever national, unified database of such workers.

In May 2021, the Supreme Court directed the Union government to build a national database of unorganised workers. Subsequently, the “e-Shram Portal”, an essential and fundamental step towards organising the unorganised workers, was taken up by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment. It attempts to bring unorganised workers under one umbrella and claims to be the first-ever national, unified database of such workers.

According to ILO (2020), around 90 percent of India’s workforce is engaged in the unorganised sector, which absorbs most of the internal migrants. The 2011 Census enumerated 450 million internal migrants and this is estimated to increase to 600 million by 2021. Therefore, creating a comprehensive, accurate and accessible database is the need of the hour.

Longstanding Social Security Demands

Despite the economic and even social and cultural contribution of migrants to both source and destination states, they remain invisible and ignored actors. Evidently, they are subject to multiple layers of interlocking discrimination and oppression. The exodus of migrants during the lockdown centred the nation’s attention on their plight.

Growing informality, precarity and risk have increased the strain on the informal labour market and, consequently, on internal migrants. It ultimately demands a robust social security network to protect these precarious human resources. One needs massive investments by prioritising social insurance and social assistance schemes and their universalisation. Since the early 1990s, there has been a growing demand to provide social security to migrant workers.

In the institutional mechanism of the existing social security frameworks, the potential claimant will get the entitlements only after its identification. Consequently, lack of documentation and registration is one of the significant causes of migrants’ exclusion. The “missing status” of migrants from the documentation and statistical exclusion push them to multiple vulnerabilities and poly-victimisation.

Policy-Data Link

Their“invisibility” functioned as a pivotal contributor to the unprecedented crisis during and after lockdowns. GoI should prioritise and provide adequate attention to creating reliable migration data, as there is ambiguity in the available database and statistics of internal migrants.

A comprehensive and effective migration policy formulation is highly dependent on credible data availability. Hence, creating a valid database of internal migrants and data-driven inclusion is crucial for their empowerment. In this context, the Kerala Migration Surveys (KMS) were a pioneer in migration surveys and creating a longitudinal database since 1998. KMS has been the bedrock of many welfare programmes of the Kerala government.

Its reliable estimates proved to be extremely useful in crisis management during the Covid pandemic. The KMS model of migration surveys were already replicated in Gujarat, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Orissa. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Telangana are making some progress to replicate it.

E-Shram’s A Great Start, But

The Union Labour and Employment ministry’s decision to launch the e-Shram portal for registering unorganised workers will benefit a large number of internal migrants. It will create a national database of workers seeded with their Aadhaar cards, containing details such as name, address, occupation, occupation type, educational qualification, skill types and family details of the workers.

More than 288 million workers have registered, of which 52.75 percent are female. Female migrants in the unorganised sector are a distinctive category which constitutes a substantial proportion yet remain scattered in the labour market and experience vulnerabilities. Therefore, increasing female registration is exceptionally noteworthy to formulate gender-sensitive policies.

However, there are specific challenges regarding the e-Shram portal which need addressing at the earliest. One is the issue of linking mobile phones with their Aadhaar cards. Not all migrant unorganised workers have a permanent mobile number. If they have one, it may not be linked to their Aadhaar cards. Therefore, the worker must fulfil these prerequisites to proceed with registration on the portal, and no alternative option is available.

Aadhaar-seeding is a cumbersome process which has its own technical and infrastructural issues. Migrants who do not have their Aadhar linked to their mobile numbers will automatically be excluded. At times, Aadhaar-related online work faces outage issues and the entire process remains stalled for a few hours or days.

Make It Work: Triad Of Data, Portal, Benefits

 The preliminary study conducted by authors revealed that some workers have a false hope regarding the portal and believe that after registering, they will get some money and it will be deposited in their bank accounts. There needs to be clarity from the government regarding the precise benefits workers will receive after enrolling other than accident insurance.

Another concern is that the registration remains regionally skewed towards a few states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. In contrast, other lead source states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Assam have a low registration rate.

Migrants in the unorganised sector are not a homogenous category, and hence, to elucidate the dynamics, trends and patterns of internal migration and the unorganised sector, one must take regular steps to disaggregate the database. It is critical to identify migrants among unorganised workers.

Along with the traditional surveys and registration methods, one should collect the data through the participation of local-level authorities and different organisations such as Self-Help Groups. There is a concern for data protection and privacy, and one could accordingly develop an essential ethical framework for the same.

The registration through the portal is a ‘target-oriented’ initiative aiming to register around 380 million workers through online and offline routes. However, after quantifying the beneficiaries, one must make critical and committed efforts to improve their working conditions and quality of life. In conclusion, the e-Shram portal is a preliminary and commendable initiative; however, in the near future, major milestones must be achieved for the meaningful inclusion of internal migrants engaged in the unorganised sector

S Irudaya Rajan and Kuldeepsingh Rajput are Chair and Senior Research Fellow respectively at the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), Kerala. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

S Irudaya Rajan is Chair at the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD). Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
Kuldeepsingh Rajput is Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD). Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
first published: May 16, 2023 08:40 am