A study has revealed that at least 86 percent of working Indians earn less than Rs. 20 or just under half a U.S. dollar a day in spite of the blistering pace of growth of the nation's economy.
According to the report, Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in Unorganized Sector, released by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, out of 457 million workers in India, 395 million are employed in the so-called unorganized sector - in areas such as agriculture, construction, weaving and fishing - and only 0.4 percent of the 395 million unorganized sector workers have access to any form of social security.
Arjun Sengupta, senior government official and author of the report has called the condition of these workers - 79 percent of whom earn less than Rs. 20 (50 cents) a day - sordid and utterly deplorable.
No social security, pitiable working conditions, extreme poverty, no education, acute gender discrimination, and absent or poorly implemented laws - this is what India's workers live by, Sengupta said.
Despite high economic growth in recent years, Sengupta noted, they have remained poor at a bare subsistence level without any social security, working in the most miserable, unhygienic and unlivable conditions.
The report notes that 77 percent of India's population falls under the poor and vulnerable category. The category poor and vulnerable is one used by the Commission to describe all those who survive on Rs. 20.30 per capita per day, which is twice the poverty line, or less.
The Commission, which formally announced its findings last Thursday, notes that the illiterate have a very high probability of being poor or vulnerable, almost nine out of ten, and they are predominantly unorganized workers. Even those with education up to only primary level, 83 percent are in the poor and vulnerable group.
Analyzing the relationship between poverty and vulnerability and the type of employment among unorganized workers, the report observed that 90 percent of the poor were casual workers while, of the higher income group, only 10 were casual workers.
Among regular wage earners, 66.7 percent were in the poor and vulnerable groups, while 33 percent were from higher income group. Among the self-employed, 74.7 percent were from the poor and vulnerable and 25.3 percent came from the higher income group. The report highlighted that 79 percent of unorganized casual non-agricultural women workers in the villages are illiterate. Poverty among casual non-agricultural workers in cities is higher by almost 60 percent compared to villages. Also, 87 percent of women non-agricultural unorganized sectors work for less than the stipulated minimum wages and 85 percent of women agricultural laborers are illiterate.
The report says that 88 percent of the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes, 80 percent of the Other Backward Classes and 85 percent of Muslims belong to the category of poor and vulnerable, who earn less than Rs. 20 a day.
Sengupta's report follows Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's recent warning that the benefits of India's booming economy are yet to trickle down to the grassroot levels.
Stung by the party's poor showing in state polls, the Prime Minister has committed $6 billion over four years to revive farming.
The study has also come close on the heels of the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) annual report which has warned that the gap between rich and poor in India and other Asian countries is growing, hurting anti-poverty efforts and possibly fueling unrest.
According to the World Bank standard (per day/per capita income), at least 525 million people out of Indiaâ€™s 1.1 billion are living below the poverty line.
The Congress party-led federal government, elected on the promise of reforms with a human face, is presently under fire for failing to spread prosperity beyond the cities and deliver on promises of rural employment, healthcare and education.
A draft bill to provide healthcare and pension benefits to some 370 million workers, who are presently outside the existing social security net, is also set to go before the Parliament in the coming weeks.