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This new scheme aims to improve the skills of the urban poor to increase chances of their employability. Photo: Mint (Mint)
This new scheme aims to improve the skills of the urban poor to increase chances of their employability. Photo: Mint

Cabinet to approve jobs scheme for urban poor

The `7,000-crore budget for the scheme is for four years, till the current Plan period ends in 2017, says an official

New Delhi: The Union cabinet is set to approve a 7,000-crore jobs scheme for the urban poor, a programme the ruling Congress hopes will give it an electoral boost similar to what the rural employment scheme did for it in the previous national election.

Two officials in the Union housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry said the cabinet is likely to give its nod to the national urban livelihood mission (NULM) next week.

One of them, a top official in the ministry, which will be the nodal agency for the scheme, said the 7,000-crore budget is for four years, till the current Plan period ends in 2017.

India’s urban population in 2011 was 377 million, a 31% increase from 2001 when urban population was 286 million, according to Census data. India’s slum population in 2011 was estimated at 93 million, up from 52.4 million in 2001.

The ministry estimates that the number of urban poor increased between 1993-94 and 2004-05 by about 4 million.

This new scheme aims to improve the skills of the urban poor to increase chances of their employability.

“While 50% of this money will be spent on generating skilled employment, the rest will be spent for the welfare of street vendors, homeless and for developing community development networks, training and bank linkages," said the official mentioned above, requesting anonymity.

It is important for the programme to recognize that an informal economy already exists where the urban poor reside and what the government needs to do is intervene in enabling skill development, said Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of Bangalore-based Janaagraha, a citizen’s movement that works on issues of urban governance.

“The core (of the programme) must be that it is demand-driven. Poor can determine what skill they want and NULM should enable and catalyse that, instead of having a top-down approach and telling them what they should learn," he said, warning that the scheme otherwise risked becoming one more entitlement programme that wasted public money.

The second ministry official mentioned above said the urban jobs scheme will concentrate on cities with populations of at least 100,000 and some district headquarters with fewer people in the current plan period. “This will be around 800 cities which will be covered," said the official, who too did not agree to be identified.

That’s less than one-fourth of the 4,041 statutory towns in the country, pointed out Debolina Kundu, assistant professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs. “There is a big city bias which exists in the government. They did the same in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and now they are repeating it here," she said. Statutory towns are those that have a local body.

Kundu said the ministry has also left out 3,894 Census towns from the mission. The positive aspect, however, is that the ministry is trying to put all urban poverty alleviation measures under one umbrella, she said.

The draft mission document says the scheme will have specific focus on primary issues pertaining to urban poverty such as skill upgradation, entrepreneurship development and employment creation through wage employment and self-employment opportunities.

It further says this mission will converge with similar schemes and programmes of other ministries or departments including those of the labour, human resource development and health ministries.

Components in NULM will include building of community institutions such as self-help groups and their federations, community investment fund, credit guarantee fund for micro-enterprises and skills training for micro-enterprise.

Ramanathan said the ministry should also set up a governing body made up of independent experts to oversee the working of the scheme.

“Government enjoys announcing schemes as it is easy to do so. Real impact is how you execute a scheme," he said.

He, however, said the new scheme is a good thing because it recognizes that India is past the tipping point of urbanization and the government needs to tackle urban poverty in addition to rural poverty.

For long, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has focused on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that promises employment of 100 days a year to one member of every poor rural household. The scheme is believed to have propelled the Congress-led alliance to victory in the 2009 election but faces flak for its various administrative shortcomings.

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