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Labour, Employment And Pandemic: Policy Suggestions And Way Forward For Budget 2021

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Setting the tone for deliberations over the Budget 2021 and what it should ideally offer to heal the ailing Indian Economy, Prof Santosh Mehrotra, voiced concerns over the mismanagement of the pandemic and the economy by the incumbent government. A decorated academician and former Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof Mehrotra’s observations and suggestions were backed by hard data drawn from his research and writings.

Speaking at the special lecture based on the topic, ‘Labour, Employment and Pandemic: Policy Suggestions and Way Forward for Budget 2021’ organized by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, Prof Mehrotra postulated four essential features that must be included in the Budget 2021.

He opened his lecture whilst drawing attention towards the rapidly closing window of India’s demographic dividend which according to him will end latest by 2040. “We are already two-thirds into this period and hence do not have a single year to lose,” warns Prof Mehrotra.

He recalls how in the year 1979 both India and China had the same level of per capita income but thereafter, China rode the wave of its demographic dividend to achieve a growth rate of 10%. To emulate China success there is a need to create jobs for all the young people entering the working-age and achieve a 9-10% growth rate. However, this has happened very rarely and achieving this is the big challenge, adds Prof Mehrotra.

Prof Mehrotra cites a few unemployment statistics to point out that the unemployment rates have been the highest in recent times and that going into the ill-planned lockdown, India already had about 280 million unemployed people in addition to the 205 million in agriculture. He draws attention to the falling growth rates due to a series of policy mistakes by the incumbent govt, causing the economy to shrink quarter by quarter since late 2016 for 9 quarters before 2020.

Prof Mehrotra laments that it is during this bleak period that the pandemic made landfall and further exasperated the unemployment levels and shut down the economy. Commenting on the mishandling of India’s economy, Prof Mehrotra cites the ill-prepared and sudden imposition of a stringent nationwide lockdown as directly responsible for contracting the country’s economy greater than any other G-20 country in FY 21. The fiscal stimulus put in place was not sufficient to revive the economy. The schemes introduced were about half the size of those put in place in 2008/09 when the impact on the economy was much lesser, adds Prof Mehrotra.

To tackle the current situation, revive India’s growth story and cash in on the rapidly closing demographic dividend window, Prof Mehrotra postulated four essential features that must be included in the Budget 2021. He suggested that the FRBM Act must be relaxed and there should be an increased expenditure in infrastructure which will create jobs in the construction sector as well as the crowd in private investment.

He maintained that India should aim towards investing 2.5 % of its GDP on health in the next three years if it aspires to immunize 60-65 % of the population and achieve herd immunity. He adds that there should be an urban employment guarantee program that will be substitutive of MGNREGA. Prof Mehrotra lays the most emphasis on the need for a Minimum income guarantee of Rs 500 per month for poor households.

He adds that this could be done as a substitute to the PM-KISAN scheme where the benefits would be extended not just to the owner cultivators but also the tenant farmers, landless labourers and the rural and urban poor. The beneficiaries should be identified using the SECC data. This will cost the exchequer only about 10000 crores more than the expenditure on PM KISAN, estimates Prof Mehrotra.

Reflecting upon the lecture, chair for the session, Prof Dev Nathan of IIHD, dwelled upon the issues in the Political economy. He highlighted that there has been a continuation in the policy of placing the responsibility on the rural economy for providing a social security net during economic downturns. No relief is provided for the bottom level while on the other hand the hyper-scale sector and the oligopolies are exempted from paying taxes and given relief packages. This will lead to unequal growth, warns Prof Dev Nathan.

Prof Sarthi Acharya, Managing Editor of IJLE, highlighted the structural inefficiencies that existed in the economy since the 1990’s that exasperated the effects of the pandemic. He batted for long term Industrial and agricultural policies that will make the sector more efficient and competitive. Prof Acharya said that there should be more investment and focus on SME’s, value-added exports and human capital. He also mooted the need for restarting the 5-year planning model which was corroborated by Prof Mehrotra.

Dr Amrita Pillai, Research Fellow at NIPFP, focussed on some practical measures that could be dolled out in the Budget 2021. Adding that the MSME’s are the 2nd largest employers with around 11.4 crore employees, she said that there should be a focus on strengthening this sector to create more non-farm jobs. Dr Pillai suggested that the government should consider conducting the 5th MSME survey to understand where the sector stands after the effects of demonetization, GST implementation and COVID-19.

Migrant Workers Headed Back To Their Home In Panic Amid Three Week Lockdown To Curb COVID-19 Coronavirus
NEW DELHI, INDIA – MARCH 28: A wave of migrant workers seen at Anand Vihar Bus Terminus near the Delhi – UP border following Uttar Pradesh government’s call to arrange buses for the workers returning to their native state, on day 4 of the 21-day nationwide lockdown imposed by PM Narendra Modi to check the spread of coronavirus, on March 28, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

She also voiced out the need for a direct support scheme, a package for first time MSME borrowers, a credit backstop facility to encourage entrepreneurship which could be managed by SIDBI, an extension of the ECGLS scheme and the creation of a commission to review and rationalize compliance requirements for MSME. Dr Pillai remarked that due to the recent amendments in labour laws by several states, women are discouraged to join the workforce. To rectify this there should be a special relief package for women-led MSME’s, added Dr Pillai.

Prof Utpal De, Prof at North-Eastern Hill University and moderator for the session agreed to the broad points raised by Prof Mehrotra and raised concern about the lack of market sentiment after 2016, where due to rising uncertainty, private investments have been falling. Prof Indira Hirway spoke very briefly and stated that there should be a larger focus on the political economy questions and the gender aspects of the effects of COVID-19.

Prof Abdul Wadud and Prof Elias Hossain, of Rajshahi University, Bangladesh appraised the situation in Bangladesh post the pandemic and how the country’s economy has been more resilient than the Indian economy. Prof Wadud added that he hopes the growth rate to bounce back to 8% or more in less than 2 years.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI, raised several pertinent issues regarding the size of the budget that would be needed to tide over the current turbulent situation, the issue of widening digital divide, the delay in notifying the National Employment Policy, need for other sources of revenue like a green bond or a wealth tax, the role of the tech economy and about the impediments in reviving the manufacturing sector of India.

In his closing remarks, Prof Dev Nathan reiterated the need for an Industrial Policy which has been long due. While drawing a parallel with Pinochet’s Chile, he also cautioned about market fundamentalism that is creeping in the Indian economy where the big businesses are raking in the profits and the working class is left to fend with what they get in the market.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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