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Govt turns focus on informal sector

New Delhi, Dec. 11: After enshrining the right-to-work and the food-for-work programmes in its policies, the United Progressive Alliance government turned its focus on the unorganised/informal sector and walked the talk on how to protect this employment-intensive area and ensure its growth in the era of globalisation.

A meeting that the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised/Informal Sector had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today identified three areas for 'immediate investigation and action'.

Heading the list of priorities was evolving a 'holistic' mechanism which would see the participation of external economies and various government ministries.

A press note released by the Prime Minister's Office listed 'the notion of growth poles for the informal sector in the form of cluster/hubs, where external economies need to be provided to spur employment generation and productivity enhancement and the feasibility of integrating the initiatives and programmes of various ministries in this regard' as priority one.

The second was to explore private-public collaboration in developing and using skills. The third was aimed at providing micro finance and related services to strengthen the institutional framework and the last was taking up social security issues for workers and formalising the instruments to achieve this objective.

In his address, Singh stressed the need for 'comprehensive social security' because of the 'increasing commercialisation of society and the weakening of the traditional social fabric'.

The Prime Minister reportedly spoke of reviewing the existing laws and urged the commission, headed by Arjun K. Sengupta, to come up with a charter to deal with this sector. The meeting brought up the matter of how street vendors and hawkers were constantly harassed by police and the administration and of the existing laws being inadequate to insulate them against such harassment.

The labour minister in the National Democratic Alliance government, Sahib Singh Verma, had also announced a 'comprehensive' social security package for the unorganised/informal sector which was thrown out for lack of finance. Asked whether the commission's blueprint would meet a similar fate ' given the perception that the right-to-work and the food-for-work programmes were getting stalled for want of money ' official sources maintained that the difference between Verma's proposal and the UPA's was that the latter's approach was 'holistic and related to its fundamental commitment to generate work' and the Prime Minister himself was involved in it.

In his address, the Prime Minister underlined the need to fashion a new development strategy for this sector because the organised sector had ceased to throw up job opportunities. It was all the more important for the informal/unorganised sector ' which accounted for 90 to 95 per cent of employment in the economy ' to keep pace with the rate of increase in the labour force.

Singh outlined his own priorities. First, he felt that the problems of production, including capital availability, would have to be taken up and the 'imperfections' in the capital market vis-a-vis the informal/unorganised sector corrected.

He emphasised the need to facilitate market access and make available technological upgrade and advancement and knowledge generation.

His refrain was the 'relevance' of the Gandhian model of decentralised development.

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