Why Few Informal Workers Know Of A Portal, Meant To Ease Their Access To Welfare Schemes

An offline registration process and better outreach could help, say labour rights activists

Few workers from the unorganised sector are aware about the government’s e-shram portal launched three years ago to help them access 12 critical social security schemes using a unique identification card anywhere in the country, show field interviews conducted in Maharashtra and Gujarat. 

The distress of the reverse migration of informal workers seen during the COVID-19 had shown the need for a central database of workers to consolidate their demographic information for the uninterrupted delivery of welfare schemes. But a cumbersome registration process, the lack of outreach, and poor digital access do not allow the portal to realise its full potential.

Anjali Rathod, 19, is partially literate and has been working as a construction worker for five years now in Pune. She has to care for her parents – who worked as construction workers for two decades – and her three-year-old daughter and is in desperate need of work. Though her family has worked as construction workers for more than two decades now, no one in the family has heard of the portal.

The e-shram portal could have eased the Rathod family’s hardships if it had been implemented to its full effect. Anjali’s father Sanjay Rathod, 44, has chronic back pain and various injuries sustained at work. He has no support from any  government scheme and the cost of healthcare is driving the family deeper into poverty. 

We asked Rathod if he ever sought help from public hospitals under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana among the schemes listed on the E shram portal? No, he says, bewildered by the question. More than 100 women we met at Mumbai, Pune and Ahemadabad’s mazdoor nakas (street corners where daily wagers assemble and wait for work) had the same response.

Most workers either did not know about the portal or did not know how to register and had to seek help to do so from labour unions. 

Construction workers in Ahmedabad's Akbar Nagar mazoor adda, are unaware about the e-shram Portal and the social security schemes meant for them/ Priyanka Tupe.

The E Shram portal is meant to recognise and support unorganised workers. The portal requires a worker to register themselves on the portal using Aadhaar, their mobile number and bank account details.  Then it assigns them a Universal Account Number (UAN) which can then be cited to access various welfare schemes. The portal also captures the details of workers – name, permanent address, current address, occupation, educational qualification, skill type and so on. 

Registration Woes

The portal allows registrations under 30 broad occupation sectors and around 400 occupations. But the registration process itself is a tiresome process.

“There are more than 150 occupational codes – unique serial numbers assigned to different kinds of work. People from the government’s labour departments who can assist in registration need a better understanding of these codes because an error can affect workers when they wish to avail a scheme,” said Shalaka Chauhan, a labour researcher focussed on the e-shram portal. She added that other than providing a single window for information on all workers’ entitlements the portal does not quite serve any purpose.

There are some unique advantages of registering on the portal –  beneficiary workers who have reached the age of 60 will automatically start receiving a pension of Rs 3,000 and upon their death, 50% of this would go to their spouse. They are also entitled to death insurance of Rs. 2 lakh and a financial aid of Rs. 1 lakh in case of partial disability. 

The only person we met who has an e-shram card is Feku Passwan, 55, a migrant worker from Bihar who was waiting for daily work at the Warje Mazdoor Adda in Pune. Paswan got an NGO to help him secure the card but he is not quite sure how to use it. Like him, the awareness about the portal is mostly limited to those associated with labour unions.


Access Challenge

Labour rights activists point to the need for an offline registration process to help workers who do not have smartphones or have trouble using it.

Mahananda, 44, a daily wage construction worker in Pune, migrated 20 years ago from the drought-prone district of the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Even though she earns Rs 12,000-15,000 a month, she does not possess a smartphone to access the internet. 

Mahananda, a construction worker at Warje mazoor adda in Pune, doesn't know anything about e- shram portal nor does she have access to a smartphone /Priyanka Tupe

“I don’t know how to use a mobile. I just receive and make calls,” says Mahananda showing us her very basic mobile phone. Many women like Mahananda do not have smartphones of their own; but younger women do. Most were unlettered and could not even sign their names. Reading information about such schemes even in Hindi is a challenge for them.

The digital divide is acute in India: 15 % of women use it vs 25 % of men. This worsens in villages because rural India has 29 % broadband against the national average of 51 %.

All these factors play a key role in women’s accessibility to e-shram. We visited four locations — Chembur in Mumbai, Warje, Yerawada in Pune and Akbar nagar in Ahmedabad – nowhere did we find a woman worker benefitting from the e-shram portal. Provisions and compulsion of e-shram registration for availing social security benefits affect women adversely, says labor researchers. 

“A person can register themselves on an e-shram with a mobile number. Each registration has to carry a separate phone number. Women who don’t own a mobile tend to get excluded. If a family of workers has only one mobile number, it is obvious that the men will get to use it to register,” says Shalaka Chauhan.

Of the 6.20 lakh construction workers in Maharashtra registered on the e-shram portal, only 23.31 % are women as compared to 76.69 % men. In Gujarat, the respective numbers are 22.13% and 77.87%. 

As of May 29 2024, over 29.6 crore informal workers across sectors are registered on the e-shram portal and are issued e-shram cards. but there is no data which tells the exact numbers of migrant workers. Labour rights activists and researchers have also criticised the absence of data on workers’ social identities such as caste.

Even young construction workers like Anjali and Madhu are not aware of the e-shram portal, lacking the access to information about schemes for them / Priyanka Tupe.

“There isn’t adequate awareness about the e-shram portal and schemes that should reach people by the system and people should not suffer from lack of outreach and access. Proper training for government labour officers is necessary so they can help workers with registration and compliances. The digital divide also means that it is important to also offer offline registration,” says Chauhan. 

Mitali Rathod*, a young construction worker who has an SSC degree and an ITI diploma says she finds it difficult to navigate the e-shram portal. “Government officers should come to us and help us register for e-shram cards and conduct awareness camps,” she says.

  • Priyanka Tupe is a multimedia journalist with Behanbox based in Mumbai.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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