Dr. Gayathri Vasudevan, CEO, LabourNet
One of the huge problems with traditional social security programs like old age assistance or disability assistance is targeting. Trying to establish the identity of people and then providing assistance to them just does not work in India. That’s a bottleneck in itself. The other issue is the gap between allocation and what is actually dispersed. Policies might be fairly good, but the time between allocation of funds to a particular scheme and the time that it has to work is where the gaps start to come in.
Budgets: Let us see how budgets are allocated, whether it’s municipal, legislative or parliamentary. The allocation is done saying ‘for this particular ministry or programme, you’re going to have X number of crores.’ Between that and when the funds get to the department itself, there is a time lag. Let’s say that the budget is done in February or March. Instead of the money going to the department in April, it reaches in September or October. That impacts the entire cycle because you’re starved for funds for 6 months and then suddenly, you have to plan on utilising what you had planned for the entire year in half the time.
Schemes in silos: Social security is often looked at in single buckets, and that tends to complicate it. There is no reason why you cannot do education, family planning, and basic healthcare together, but we have very very different programs targeted at each. So you look at delivery mechanisms also separately, and from a funds perspective, it’s bad utilization – you’ll have spent twice the amount to get ¼ the results. Poor organization is not only a problem of the social sector; lack of planning and implementation exists across the board, but it has more serious impact when dealing with basic entitlements for the poor.
Lack of a unified policy: There isn’t a single social security definition that India goes by. We do not have a single unified policy. If you combine everything together, you get a sort of definition, but that’s not good enough. It’s a bunch of different policies working in tandem to create the larger concept. But to be fair to India, it’s not the only country with this problem. It’s sharper in our context, but many places do not have a unified policy.
The Welfare Board: At LabourNet, we define social security as both financial inclusion as well as social protection against the ills which can happen [from living in poverty]. So we’ve delivered accident insurance, bank accounts, and links between workers and the Construction Welfare Board. What is very problematic in my opinion is the Construction Welfare Board. The Board is mandated to register all the construction workers but right now, they have no way of doing so. 6 out of 10 construction workers are not able to register themselves. And even if they do, there are problems with the ID card not being delivered on time, understanding who the registrar is, and how one can solve these problems. There’s a lot of bureaucracy. The Board itself can’t do it so they’re dependent on the labour inspectors. Goodwill and intent is in abundance but delivery of the card takes 3 months. The next question is that of trackability of the workers. If you’re a construction worker, you have to contribute year after year in order to avail the benefits of the welfare board. But there is no way of determining where these workers are.
Planning for delivery: You cannot have your monetary policy and your fiscal policy contradicting each other. If we’re experiencing inflationary pressure, then all the prices go up, but the assistance provided is not linked to that. At the local level, it’s a huge issue of planning delivery. There’s an absolute need to dust off the schemes, clean them up and ensure planning and delivery. In my opinion, it’s not rocket science. I think the biggest problem with social security is accountability – who can you blame? For health you’d go to the health department, for education you’d go to the education department, but with social security – just social assistance, forget the broader definition of social security – the oldest pension scheme is given by the revenue department. The revenue dept, whose job is to collect money and taxes, is just not equipped to do something like this. All the welfare boards come under the labour dept; the labour officials are clearly meant to enforce labour legislation. Enforcement officials are equipped more for a policing role – there is no capacity to deliver welfare.
From a livelihood perspective, the entire ambit needs to fall together. One needs to look at the target audience and ask if one is delivering to them. You cannot separate opening bank accounts from employment and health services from insurance.
LabourNet provides financial inclusion, social protection and welfare services to unorganised workers, builds capacities of workers and markets their services to customers.