Post Mortem

Rethinking social protection

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/6/2019 12:52:58 PM IST

 Experience across the world over confirms that a steady, safe, well-paid job is the best protection against economic hardship. However, the science of probability in attaining this ideal situation is dampened by a series of challenges embroiled our State. The proposition that the State Government or the private players in the State will endeavour to create more jobs to absorb the seventy thousand plus educated youths is a fallacy. The extensive agricultural lands that are fast degrading and left unattended due to the combined effects of unplanned development and climatic fluctuations pose a grave risk of losing more jobs. The eroding workforce catalyses by lack of skills in organized sector and the problem of availability of jobs in unorganized sector but lies untapped only appears to further compound rate of unemployment. The given context projects the State not to be so poor but still remain susceptible and vulnerable.

As a long term vision with a short term implementation, the Central government has from time to time introduced schemes and welfare measures. Such welfare programs mostly concerns with health, education, social security and agriculture. Conspicuously, departments including School Education, Health & Family Welfare, Social Welfare, Agriculture have automatically become the nodal agencies to execute the programs as sanctioned by the Central government. These departments have, therefore, largest number of provisional employees hired for a specific target in a preset period of time. Understandably, host of educated youths have been into these momentary jobs to secure a decent living. In one way, for the time being, those engaged and hired by the Government were viewed fortunate as few selections had been made out of thousands of applicants. In contrast, the irregular payments of salary, the temporary nature of the jobs and the absence of rehabilitation scheme for workers relieved of assignment all these render the workers hinge on between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Under this given circumstance, the perpetual obsession with the insecurity of the job afflicts both psychological and physical wellness of the workers. Creativity, by law of nature, becomes its first casualty. When prolong, it has a tendency to degenerate into mental disorder whereby it may assume certain manifested symptoms in the forms of being rebellious, negativism, frustration, anxiety, depression, and in extreme situation, suicide.

Fear of chronic pain has been a subject of reference amongst those people who seek an instant escape route. Research shows that unemployed people took their own lives at around two-and-a-half times the rate of those in work subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s downfall also saw many middle-aged people drop in the sources of income and status collapse, leading to social instability and escalated incidence of suicide. In our State, the fluid flow of liquor has only appeared to further aggravate any unfortunate fall out of the present job instability along with a complete absence of policy to repatriate the relieved workers to other alternate means of livelihood. For Mikhail Gorbachev’s effort to restrict booze in mid-1980s has resulted in low drinking and suicide rates only to be revived following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The scenario, as such, warrants active labour-market policies sharpen to retrain the jobless workers and ease them back into work. The MGNREGS had bailed out many defaulting families in rural areas when implemented in full swing. An anti-poverty measure, Public Distribution System (PDS), has not only been a mere protection of marginal population from becoming absolutely poor. It served the twin objectives of protecting and ensuring prevention of population from becoming vulnerable. Sadly, the twin programs have not been without exploitation at the cost of the vulnerable, poor and destitute.

A positive trend has recently been implemented by few private players in the State. For instance, the Entrepreneurs Associates have introduced a contributory pension system irrespective of whether a client is employed and self-employed. Under this system, a client is encouraged to make savings with the thrift-money daily, weekly or monthly. However, such is confined only to those who have wherewithal to make savings.

This calls for rebalancing social protection architecture to arrest the plight of those at risk of losing jobs and avert the vulnerable population from falling into looming poverty trap. Experts recommended three types of instruments working hand-in-gloves as a comprehensive social protection system:

Promotional instruments: These instruments make investment “in the ability of families to survive shocks on their own”. The measures include enhancing productivity, access to job opportunities and incomes through human capital infrastructure, legislation and policy formulation on wage, labour, skills and livelihood interventions.

Preventive instruments: Prevention primarily deals with reducing the impact of shocks prior to their occurrence by enabling the families to make savings through social insurance programs.

Protective instruments: They are basically called anti-poverty measures as they target social assistance or safety net programs to the poor through tax-financed redistribution. It also aims at mitigating the impacts of shock post-occurrence.

In the context of our State, whatever skilling programs that had been approved by the central Ministries may not invariably and automatically find their landing ground. As had been stressed in one of this writer’s articles published the previous year, application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge has assumed more relevance against the backdrop of climate instability. For instance, local skills in bee keeping, crafting & weaving, unique interior & exterior home designing, traditional practice of mix cropping alongside farmlands and rice terraces, harvesting of available medicinal and aromatic plants to indigenously manufacture medicines may be emulated, documented and incorporate in our school syllabus. Apart from the academic talents, the government may explore ways and means to hire local field talents in related subject matter. Rather than solely emphasising on theoretical instructions in seminars and exposures, those field talents who have equipped themselves with traditional practices (in farming and in augmenting local economy) may have far more positive implications when they impart know-how at the spot.

Welfare of labour is a concurrent subject where both the State and Central Governments can undertake legislation. Policy makers are duty-bound to legislate active labour-market policies which, as per Entry 24 of List-III (Seventh Scheduled), include conditions of work, provident funds, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pensions and maternity benefits, or even social and health insurance. Recent fall in rate of suicide among elderly Britons has been attributed to its commendable palliative care system, dubbed as one of the best in the world. Here too, we only need vision to structure a robust social protection system to inclusively take care of our vulnerable lot, including those parents who killed their own biological offspring due to compelling economic reasons.

Due to bleak market prospect, the private parties in the State are so far reluctant to venture into the realm of undertaking research, sharing of its findings and dissemination of information. The State is obligated by circumstance to establish governmentally funded think-thank to muster more precise information of its subject and deliver better governance. Sound policy intervention must be the State’s priority to train the local youths in tune with the local market demands, re-skilling and subsequent placement of the workers that are / are likely to be relieved of their current works when CSS winds up, targeted interventions to repatriate / rehabilitate those off work (caused by unplanned development, anthropogenic and natural activities) and adopting ameliorative measures to better position those workers whose agricultural lands and/or occupations are imminent to be affected by climate change.

To bring about the change, we only need the will of the State to part its resources towards the wellbeing of its subject. The conspiracy of crunch resources should no longer procrastinate the development when the State has means to finance its flourishing business of huge-money-funding horse-trading. The overheads involved in the commercialization of our representatives and in electioneering process could finance a social protection scheme, a think-tank or in rehabilitating the ones off work. Such might partially be a viable pre-emptive strike against impending social crisis.

Nukhosa Chüzho, Kohima

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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