ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Consequences of Blindsiding the Informally Employed

Employment, incomes, and the bargaining power of the informally employed, who form 86% of workers in the Indian economy, have been repeatedly impoverished due to disruptions like demonetisation and the lockdown. This article presents additional evidence from a survey of the stranded interstate migrant workers, informally employed in the city of Pune. The lockdown worsened the already depressed labour markets for the informal workers, as it affected their employment, incomes, savings, and well-being. The majority of the workers being from the socially marginalised castes faced multiple vulnerabilities, along with their dependents.

The authors would like to convey their gratitude to volunteers and workers who participated in the survey in the most trying circumstances. They are thankful to Ananya Tiwary and Swara Shah of FLAME University for helping in referencing.

There were two events that disrupted the informal labour market, in little over three years from 2016 to 2020. In the months following the demonetisation in November 2016, there was an exodus of migrant workers from the cities. However, it was largely ignored by the mainstream media. The first lockdown announced in March 2020, to stop the spread of Covid-19 in India, put a complete break on the economic activities and thus displaced millions of informally employed workers. This time a round, the exodus was amplified by its size and severity, and hence the media could not ignore it. Only 13 years ago, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) identified, estimated, and recommended policies to bolster the immense and largely vulnerable sector of the informal economy. It was the result of years of study and was followed by what is popularly called the Arjun Sengupta report (2008) among the trade union circles and academics associated with labour economics. In the policy announcements that followed both demonetisation and the lockdown, not a single footprint of its concern and advocacy survived. It was as though the painstaking report and its concerns had never existed.

Using the state-specific poverty lines and the Household Consumption Expenditure Report in the Periodic Labour Force Survey, some scholars have estimated that there are now 42% (56 crore people) households officially poor (Mazumdar and Indranil 2020). These are the working poor who constitute a large portion of the informally employed and are likely to have been rendered poorer post demonetisation (Kalhan 2020). More evidence in the form of some unfavourable government reports were blocked. The first was the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) in 2018. Later, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) announced that the data and reports of the 75th round of the National Statistical Office consumer expenditure survey (201718) would not be released as planned in November 2019 (PIB 2019). The delay was justified by the government, raising doubts about the quality of the findings.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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