UPSC MAINS 2019 : The shape of an urban employment guarantee


Topic : The shape of an urban employment guarantee

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Indian Economy



India is in the midst of a massive jobs crisis. The unemployment rate has reached a 45-year high (6.1%) in 2017-18 as per leaked data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).



  • The NSSO 2017-18 data have shown that while the open unemployment rate has now jumped to 6.1% in 2017-18.
  • In the last 10-12 years, more young people have become educated.
  • The tertiary education enrolment rate (for those in the 18-23 age group) rose from 11% in 2006 to 26% in 2016.
  • The gross secondary (classes 9-10) enrolment rate for those in the 15-16 age group increased from 58% in 2010 to 90% in 2016.
  • The expectation of such youth is for an urban, regular job in either industry or services, not in agriculture.


More about on news:

  • According to the PLFS report, the unemployment problem is especially aggravated in India’s cities and towns.
  • Aside from unemployment, low wages and precarity continue to be widespread.
  • In urban India the majority of the population continues to work in the informal sector.
  • Hence, India cannot ignore the crisis of urban employment.
  • Both State and Central governments tend to treat towns as “engines of growth” for the economy rather than spaces where thousands toil to make a living.
  • Programmes such as the SwarnaJayantiShahariRozgarYojana (1997) that included an urban wage employment component have made way for those focussed on skilling and entrepreneurship.



  • India’s small and medium towns are particularly ignored in the State’s urban imagination.
  • As per Census 2011, India has 4,041 cities and towns with an urban local body (ULB) in the form of a Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council or Nagar Panchayat.
  • The national-level urban programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) only benefit a fraction of them.
  • Most ULBs are struggling to carry out basic functions because of a lack of financial and human capacity.
  • Further, with untrammelledurbanisation, they are facing more challenges due to the degradation of urban ecological commons.


Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of the NSSO:

  • One of the major statistical hurdles in our country is the estimation of reliable employment and unemployment data.
  • The NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) was historically conducting Employment and Unemployment Surveys as part of its National Sample Surveys.
  • These surveys were the prime source for statistics about employment and unemployment situation in the country.


Starting of PLFS:

  • From 2017 onwards, a nationwide Labour Force Survey called Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) was launched by the NSSO.
  • The PLFS was aimed to provide quarterly employment and unemployment data.
  • Report of the PLFS was expected in December 2018 but was postponed.
  • The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) was launched from 1st April 2017.
  • Primary aim of the PLFS is to generate reasonably accurate indicators of labour market at a short span for every quarter for which speed of quality data collection and processing are important.
  • Quarterly changes of various indicators of the labour market in urban areas as well as to generate the annual estimates of different labour force indicators both in rural and urban areas are the supplementary objectives of the PLFS.


Annual estimates:

Annual estimates (for both rural and urban areas) would be generated for major parameters like:

  • Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR),
  • Worker Population Ratio (WPR),
  • Unemployment Rate (UR),
  • Distribution of workers by industry, occupation, workers employed in informal sector and
  • Conditions of employment of the workers.


National Urban Employment Guarantee Programme:

National Urban Employment Guarantee Programme that strengthens small and medium-sized towns in India by providing urban residents a legal right to employment, improving the quality of urban infrastructure and services, restoring urban commons and ecology, skilling youth, and increasing the financial and human capacity of Urban Local Bodies.


The proposed programme seeks to address the following key problems:

  • Underemployment and low wages in the informal urban workforce
  • Migration to large cities from small and medium towns
  • Poor quality of urban infrastructure and services
  • Ecological degradation of urban spaces
  • Shortage of human and financial capacities ofUrban Local Bodies
  • Unemployment and lack of skills in the educated labour force



  • It increases demand by raising incomes directly, and indirectly in the informal sector, by improving the fallback position of workers
  • It provides a better trained workforce to the private sector by allowing educated young workers to acquire skills and improve their employability.
  • The work undertaken will create assets that improve the town’s ecology and quality of public services, which have a direct impact on productivity and quality of life
  • It creates a shared sense of public goods in which every resident has a stake.


The programme will cover three kinds of towns:

  • Type 1 Towns – These are small towns with a population up to 50,000. They are mostly areas transitioning from rural to urban and are often governed by Nagar Panchayats.
  • Type 2 Towns – These are medium-sized towns with a population between 50,000 and 300,000. In most states, these are governed by Municipal Councils.
  • Type 3 Towns – These are cities with a population between 300,000 and 1,000,000, having a Municipal Corporation.


What Types of Work will be undertaken?

  • Public works: Building, maintenance and upgradation of civic infrastructure like roads, footpaths, cycling paths, bridges, public housing, monuments, laying of cables, and other construction work. These are already being carried out by ULBs but it can be expanded with more funds under the new programme.
  • Green jobs: Creation, restoration, and maintenance of urban common spaces, green spaces and parks, forested or woody areas, rejuvenation of degraded or waste land, cleaning of water bodies (tanks, rivers, nullahs, lakes).
  • Monitoring and Surveying jobs: Gathering, classifying, and storage of information on environmental quality and other aspects of quality of public goods. This will require easy to use equipment for data collection and software for data entry.
  • Administrative assistance: Assisting municipal offices, local public schools, health centres and so on in administration or other ancillary functions, thereby freeing up the teaching or medical staff for core functions.
  • Care work: Assisting regular public employees working in balwadis/aanganwadis or creches, providing child-minding services for parents working longer hours, assisted care for the elderly and various services for the differently-abled, such as reading to the visually challenged , assisting those with hearing or mobility impairment to manage various activities and so on.



  • Increase Migration from Rural to Urban areas: A potential problem with an employment guarantee programme for urban areas is that it may increase migration from rural areas.
  • Identification of beneficiary: It would be difficult to prove domicile status as per state laws as well as identification of actual beneficiary
  • Fund: Successful implementation of scheme require huge fund. This may create extra burden on state and centre
  • Different from MGNREGA: Urban unemployment is different from rural. In urban area unemployment is primarily among skilled and semi-skilled.


Related schemes:

  • YuvaSwabhimanYojana: The newly elected government in Madhya Pradesh recently announced a 100-day urban job guarantee scheme, the YuvaSwabhimanYojana, which provides urban youth with varying educational qualifications with a wide set of jobs
  • Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS): Since 2010, Kerala has been running a programme called the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS) which guarantees 100 days of wage-employment to an urban household for manual work.
  • Green New Deal: In the United States of America, ‘Green New Deal’ proposals provide for a ‘Green Job Guarantee’ which enshrines ‘a legal right that obligates the federal government to provide a job for anyone who asks for one and to pay them a liveable wage’.


Way forward:

  • In the context of the present employment crises, it is worthwhile considering to introduce an employment guarantee programme in urban areas.
  • Along with addressing the concerns of underemployment and unemployment, such a programme can bring in much-needed public investment in towns to improve the quality of urban infrastructure and services, restoring urban commons, skilling urban youth and increasing the capacity of ULBs.
  • The idea of an urban employment programme is gaining traction in political and policy debates.
  • According to multiple reports, it could be a key agenda of a possible Common Minimum Programme of the Opposition parties for the 2019 general election.
  • Another novel aspect is the creation of a skilling and apprenticeship programme for unemployed youth with higher education
  • In light of the 74th Amendment, this programme should be administered by the ULB in a participatory manner by involving ward committees.
  • This programme be administered by a newly created Ministry of Employment under the Government of India. Such a Ministry will be responsible for all matters related to employment generation including the administration of MGNREGA.
  • The Central and state governments have to hire, through an open process, a set of dedicated staff who are responsible for administering this programme as well as staff responsible for accountability measures under this programme.


Sample Question:

“India needs new ways to promote the sustainable development of India’s small and medium towns. In the context of the present employment crises, it is worthwhile considering to introduce an employment guarantee programme in urban areas” critically examine the statement.