2020-07-15 07:28:00

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic in India and its impact on migrant labourers who needed immediate social security schemes are likely to be the focus of two crucial parliamentary committee meetings on Wednesday.

The meetings by the standing committees on labour and home affairs come even as the Centre considers ways to hold the Parliament’s monsoon session while maintaining social distancing. The two committees have invited secretaries of the respective ministries to brief their members.

Bhartruhari Mahtab, who chairs the standing committee on labour, said his panel will discuss the labour law changes by the Union government and suggest modifications. “State governments have also made certain changes; so, those issues will also be taken up. Of course, some state governments did withdraw the changes made in labour laws after the timely intervention by the standing committee, but it will be interesting to know the view of the government,” he said.

Mahtab said it may discuss the possibility of extending the benefits of Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) and Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) to migrant workers. “Job crunch is a problem and we want to understand the situation and the extent of the problem from the Union government. Since ESI and EPF benefits depend on the number of workers in an industrial unit, we want to explore how these benefits can be provided to all labourers irrespective of the number of people employed with an industrial unit.”

The return of some migrant labourers to cities may also be discussed at the meeting. “We want to know if there is an estimate on the number of migrant labourers in the country and what is the estimate on the number of migrant labourers who returned to their villages during the lockdown. When economic activity is starting again, we want to know what steps are the state governments taking when labourers leave their home states and reach the state where they are employed. Is there a mechanism to record how many labourers are going to which state? How will state governments work for migrant labourers if they do not how many labourers have gone to which state?”

The standing committee on home affairs, chaired by senior Congress leader and former Union minister Anand Sharma, will also meet on Wednesday, after its last scheduled meeting in June was cancelled. “Management of the covid-19 pandemic and coordination with state governments, phased unlocking, resumption of economic activities, inter-state movement of people and goods and state of preparedness” are on the agenda, according to the Rajya Sabha website.

Parliamentary committees have started meeting since last week with social distancing norms in place. Last Friday, meetings of science and technology over covid-19 and public accounts committee (PAC) over selection of subjects for scrutiny took place. The focus of scrutiny for several parliamentary committees is now on covid-19 pandemic and its fallout. On 4 August, the committee on health and family welfare will meet to discuss and hear the views of the Union health secretary on the “outbreak of pandemic covid-19 and related contingent and mitigation plan”.

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