On August 26, 2021, the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) launched the E-Shram, the web portal for creating a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW. It is the first-ever national of its kind including Construction Workers, Migrant Workers, Gig and Platform workers, Street Vendors, Domestic Workers, Agriculture Workers, etc. It seeks to register an estimated 398-400 million unorganized workers and to issue an E-Shram card, containing a 12 digit unique number. It will have details of name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill types, and family details, etc. for the optimum realization of their employability and extend the benefits of the social security schemes to them.
The aim is to improve the life and dignity of the labor force of the country by protecting & safeguarding the interest of workers, promotion of welfare, and providing social security to the labor force both in organized and unorganized sectors by enactment and implementation of various labor laws, which regulate the terms and conditions of service and employment of workers.
Objectives of E-SHRAM Portal
- Creation of a centralized database of all unorganized workers to be seeded with Aadhaar.
- To improve the implementation efficiency of the social security services for the unorganized workers.
- Integration of Social Security Schemes meant for UWs being administered by MoLE and subsequently those run by other ministries as well.
- Sharing of information in respect of registered unorganised workers with various stakeholders such as Ministries/ Departments/ Boards/ Agencies/ Organisations of the Central & State Governments through APIs for delivery of various social security and welfare schemes being administered by them.
- Portability of the social security and welfare benefits to the migrant and construction workers.
- Providing a comprehensive database to Central and State Governments for tackling any National Crises like COVID-19 in future.
Any individual who is an unorganized worker, with age between 16-58 years, can register on the e-Shram portal. But who is an Unorganised Worker? Any worker who is a home-based-worker, self-employed worker, or a wage worker in the unorganized sector including a worker in the organized sector who is not a member of ESIC or EPFO or not a Govt. employee is called an Unorganised Worker. The requirements for registration on the portal are Aadhar number, mobile number linked with Aadhaar, and savings bank account number with IFSC code.
The registration of workers on the portal will be coordinated by the Ministry of Labour and Employment ((MoLE), Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), National Informatics Centre (NIC)- technology partner, UIDAI- for Aadhaar based registration, NPCI- facilitating validation of bank accounts, ESIC & EPFO- for determining the status of a worker as organized or unorganized, and other stakeholders.
As of December 11, 2021, according to the data from the E-Shram dashboard, about 113 million registrations have been completed. The top 5 states in registrations are Uttar Pradesh (20.41%), West Bengal (19.73%), Odisha (10.93%), Bihar (10.5%), and Jharkhand (4.96); and the top occupation sectors registered are Agriculture, Construction, Domestic and Household Workers and Apparel. The Composition of the registrations by Gender, Age, Social Category, and Income slab are represented by the following charts.
Workers stand to gain by registration in the medium to long run. But the instant benefit of accident insurance up to ₹0.2 million to registered workers is surely not an attractive carrot. The main point of attraction is the benefits they stand to gain during normal and crisis-ridden periods such as the novel coronavirus pandemic now which the Government needs to disseminate properly.
However, it has come into existence more than a decade after the passage of the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act in 2008; and if we consider inter-State migrant workers, the portal is a little more than four decades late. It has come about even after repeated nudging by the Supreme Court of India. Had the Central and the State governments begun these legally mandated processes on time, much of the distress of lakhs of vulnerable workers would have been avoided. It is the result of state apathy. No government — either the United Progressive Alliance or the National Democratic Alliance — can stake a claim for this legally mandated measure. In fact, the political class owes an ‘apology’ to informal workers.
The success of the project depends on the involvement of a variety of stakeholders apart from trade unions, massive and innovative dissemination exercises involving multiple media outlets of various languages, the holding of camps on demand by the stakeholders and on their own by the Government, efficiency of the resolution of grievance redress mechanisms, micro-level operations, etc.
Given the gigantic nature of registering each worker, it will be a long-drawn process. Some of the issues identified are:
- Lower Teledensity and Digital Literacy: India still witnesses a significant digital divide, as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, as of 30th June, 2021, the rural teledensity (number of telephone connections per 100 people in a specified geographic area) stands at 60.10% against the overall teledensity is 88.07%. This is further compounded by the low levels of digital literacy.
- Aadhaar Related Issues: Imposing the condition of Aadhaar would exclude workers without Aadhaar cards from the process. Many unorganised workers have to change mobile numbers frequently and may not always be able to access the Aadhaar-linked mobile. Moreover, the Aadhaar verification system has suffered technology failures many times that have led to serious issues of exclusion for welfare benefits.
- Data-Security Related Issues: In the absence of a stringent data protection law, one of the vital concerns of the portal is data security and its potential abuse considering it is a mega-sized database. The central government would have to share data with State governments whose data security capacities vary.
- Non-Inclusive Coverage of Workers: By excluding workers covered by EPF and ESI, lakhs of contract workers will be excluded from the ambit of unorganised workers. Moreover, the portal is open to unorganised workers aged between 16 and 59 only, the NDUW excludes a large number of workers aged over 59 from its ambit, which constitutes age discrimination.
- Ambiguity regarding Gig Workers: Even though the MoLE includes gig workers in this process, the other three Labour Codes do not include them as workers, neither does the Social Security Code specifically include them, unless they are declared ‘self-employed’ or ‘wage workers’.
The mandatory usage of Aadhaar for registration is unconstitutional and exclusionary. Other government-provided ID cards should be allowed for authenticating a worker’s identity. Triple linkage for efficient and leakage-less delivery of all kinds of benefits to workers viz. One-Nation-One-Ration Card (ONORC), E-Shram Card, and the Election Commission Card can also be done. Also, the workers must be provided the flexibility to use different numbers as it would increase the portal’s registration intake.
Arrangements for offline registration are needed, given that all workers will not be able to access the online portal. To this extent, Common Service Centres can be leveraged to hold ‘registration camps’ for those who wish to register offline. The success of the project depends on the involvement of a variety of stakeholders. It also includes massive and innovative dissemination exercises involving multiple media outlets of various languages. The holding of camps on demand by the stakeholders by the Government can be effective. The efficiency of the resolution of grievance redressal mechanisms is needed.
The Government must publish statistics at the national and the regional levels of the registrations to assess the registration system’s efficiency. There is also the concern of corruption as middle-service agencies such as Internet providers might charge exorbitant charges to register and print the E-Shram cards. Therefore, the involvement of surveillance agencies is crucial.
The Covid-19 crisis has taught us the importance of building safety nets and raised the need to formulate robust social security mechanisms for the unorganized sector in India. E-Shram is a vital system to provide hitherto invisible workers much-needed visibility. It will provide the Labour Market Citizenship Document to them. It must be ensured that registrations are not a source of exclusion of a person from receiving social assistance and benefits.
About the Contributor
Swati Solanki is Research Assistant and Assistant Editor at IMPRI. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Economics from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.