Can the right to work be made real in India? -G Sampath

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published Published on Nov 13, 2020   modified Modified on Nov 13, 2020

-The Hindu

It can be made workable if there is political will and fiscal resources

As economies around the world struggle to recover from the double whammy of a pandemic and a lockdown, unemployment is soaring. In India, the land of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the promise of jobs and the politics of unemployment have a long history. Can a citizen demand work as a right, and is it the state’s responsibility to provide employment? Reetika Khera and Amit Basole discuss the possible policy approaches to the right to work, in a conversation moderated by G. Sampath. Edited excerpts:

* What is the legal status of the right to work internationally and in India?

Reetika Khera: The right to work was a big topic of discussion after World War II, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to work in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In India, we don’t have a constitutional right to work. But what we do have is MGNREGA. This is a step in the direction of a right to work, but it is a statutory right. Under MGNREGA, a person can hold the state accountable for not fulfilling the right by demanding an unemployment allowance. But if the law is amended or withdrawn, the right vanishes.

* Is the right to work relevant as a concept any more given that most countries have embraced the market economy? India has been seeing a declining jobs-to-GDP ratio, and mostly jobless growth, with labour also subject to the laws of the market.

Amit Basole: It is precisely under these circumstances that this right becomes important. The term ‘right to work’ is often used in the context of unemployment or lack of availability of work. But there is also another sense of it, which is the right to earn my livelihood without any obstruction. In both these senses, what we have seen in the past few decades is that the path of development not only does not create adequate employment opportunities, it also actively dispossesses or displaces people from their means of livelihood. So, on the one hand, displacement and dispossession, and on the other, failure to create new jobs make it all the more important to imagine the right to work in a creative way and make it legally enforceable.

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The Hindu, 13 November, 2020,

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