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The government should expand the national rural job guarantee programme’s scope to help migrants who have returned to their home states, a parliamentary standing committee has recommended. The panel has also underlined the importance of setting up a real-time database of migrants to track whether the job programme’s benefits reach the needy.

“Without a credible database", effecting social welfare will not be “completely successful", the committee on labour said in a report.

The panel, headed by Bhartruhari Mahtab, termed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as the most effective way to boost rural livelihood and noted that its scope must be enhanced in collaboration with other ministries. “The committee is of the firm opinion that there is no better scheme than MGNREGS to provide sustainable livelihood to unskilled workers, including inter-state migrant labourers," it said.

The committee said it would want the ministry of rural development to “consistently enhance employment opportunities for MGNREGS workers, including the returnee migrant labourers" to mitigate the hardships during crises such as the covid-19 pandemic.

“The committee also desires that the ministry should unfailingly continue with their endeavour in the provision of wage employment to the unskilled/migrant workers, not only during pandemics but for all times, to meet any contingency and cater to the basic needs of the poorer sections of the society," it said.

The panel said it has taken note of the information on migrant workers being collected by the government. “The committee desires that the initiative be given the needed impetus, thrust, and support so that the nation can have a credible real-time database of inter-state migrant workers," said the report.

Millions of migrant workers went to their home states, many making the journey on foot after a nationwide lockdown was announced suddenly in March following the coronavirus outbreak. The government claims that nearly 11 million people went home to their villages from cities, but experts said the number could be much higher, given the size of the informal workforce.

The Union labour ministry is working on the migrants’ database, central labour commissioner D.S. Negi said. The rural development ministry on Friday told the Rajya Sabha that there is no plan to sanction more work per year under the rural jobs scheme beyond the prescribed limit.

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