With the Covid-19 outbreak, the Centre promised an unemployment allowance under the Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana, a scheme run by the ESIC under the labour ministry. The scheme, which provides relief to a registered worker to the extent of 25% of the average per day earning during the previous four contribution periods, to be paid up to maximum 90 days of unemployment, has been extended for a year and terms relaxed to provide allowance during the crucial lockdown period.
However, many workers are unable to get the benefits. Pramod Tiwari (name changed) says, “I read in the newspapers about this scheme. But I am trying to login to the system and get the benefits. It does not show my eligibility. This is the first time that I have required any sort of help but I am disappointed that despite contributing regularly, I am unable to get the benefit.”
Krishan Yadav (name changed), who has been working in an automobile company in Manesar, has had a similar experience. “The company I was working in since 2017 paid me for half the month in March. Then I got no wages from April to June. Gradually, when things opened up, they took us back in August. The company is registered with ESIC. I heard from other workers that we can get unemployment benefits as we have been paying our premiums. So, I went to the Manesar office of ESIC with my documents and sought help on how to fill the online form for this scheme. I was sent away saying there is no such scheme. There is no way to fill the form physically and I know little about how to go about the online processes,” he said adding that there were a few workers in his company who have been able to fill their forms online.
When contacted, ESIC said in a written statement, “There is no human intervention in deciding the eligibility of any claimant. The software based upon the data of ESIC contribution filed by the employer in respect of the employee, the length of service and his date of unemployment decide an employee’s eligibility for relief under the scheme.”
‘Safe in India’, a non-profit organisation that has been working closely with workers in Delhi-NCR region, is now helping workers tap into the scheme. Sandeep Sachdeva, CEO, Safe in India Foundation, said, “There are definitional issues, confusing the ESIC staff and workers. For example, the definition of ‘unemployment’ under the scheme is unclear. Does unemployment cover the workers who were not paid in the lockdown but have jobs now? We have instances where the workers were not paid from April to June but are employed now in September. Can they claim under the scheme as they should? This is unclear.”
Sachdeva said that like many welfare schemes under ESIC there is lack of awareness, not only among workers, but even in ESIC offices. “Though this scheme was announced a month back, all ESIC branch offices do not appear to have been informed of the process. We have many cases where eligible workers have gone to ESIC branch offices with their completed forms, approved on ESIC system, duly notarised, but have been turned down on the grounds that they have no such scheme,” he said.
ESIC said in a written reply, “The instructions about the relaxation in the eligibility criteria have been issued and circulated to all field offices. The sub-regional office incharge, Gurgaon, and ESIC branch manager, Manesar, have been suitably advised to be sensitive towards the needs of the claimants of relief and help them.”