March 19, 2021 3:05:58 am
Stainless steel utensils, umbrellas, lanterns and cycles — months into the pandemic, money from a fund aimed at delivering safety, health and welfare measures for construction workers is instead being routed by multiple states to issue tenders for purchase and distribution of these household items. Multiple cases of ‘misuse’ of money from the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (BOCW) Welfare Fund have now been flagged by the Central Building and Other Construction Workers’ Advisory Board, an arm of the Union Labour Ministry.
Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are among states that are learnt to have been set missives by the Central Advisory Board on the misuse of funds for purchase and distribution of items such as utensils, umbrellas, lanterns and cycles, instead of tangible contingency measures such as money transfers, two senior government officials said.
While the Advisory Board has flagged the purchase of stainless steel utensils through a tender process by the Maharashtra government, the distribution of umbrellas and lanterns has been red-flagged in Himachal Pradesh, an official said. “The procurement process adds layers to the entire process, with possibility of corruption at both the procurement stage and at the distribution end. Instead, the funds collected under the BOCW Welfare Fund could have been used for direct cash transfers to the workers,” the official told The Indian Express.
Referring to issuance of tenders for supply of stainless steel utensils by the Maharashtra Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board under the state’s Labour Department, the Central Advisory Board’s Chairman V Srinivasa Naidu in a missive to the state late last month called for “stopping the misuse” of the BOCW funds and cancellation of tender process.
“I have received few representations bringing into my notice that the state BOC Workers Welfare Board of Maharashtra has invited tenders for supply of household kits to construction workers, which is in contravention of the orders of the Honourable Supreme Court. Hence, I request your kind self to intervene in this matter and direct the concerned officials to stop misuse of BOC Workers welfare Fund and cancel the tender process,” Naidu wrote in the letter.
In its tender document issued January 26, the Maharashtra government stated that BOC workers migrate from one place to another and have to “mitigate with constant change in habitat/residence, health issues, education of children and food” and in order to facilitate daily cooking and serving food, a kit of household items is required. This scheme was approved by a state government resolution dated January 18.
Queries sent to Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments on this issue went unanswered.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) too had flagged the issue of utilisation of funds from the BOCW Welfare Fund for schemes not strictly under the purview of welfare schemes. In its letter to the Labour and Employment Ministry dated March 1, BMS wrote about the “arbitrary use of funds” for construction of a building and distribution of utensils instead to be used for the welfare of construction workers.
Last March, after the imposition of the lockdown to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre had asked states to use funds of around Rs 31,000 crore in their respective state construction worker welfare funds under the BOCW Cess Act for 3.5 crore registered workers. The latest available government data for state-wise breakup of registered BOC workers showed Uttar Pradesh having the highest share of such workers at 48.5 lakh, followed by West Bengal at 31.01 lakh.
An advisory was issued by the Labour Ministry on March 24, 2020 to all states/UTs to provide financial assistance to BOC workers via direct benefit transfer (DBT) from the BOCW Welfare Fund maintained by them. Most state governments gave out grants between Rs 1,000 and 5,000 per month to registered BOC workers.
As per Ministry estimates, during Covid-19, Rs 5,012 crore had been distributed by state/UT welfare boards to some 1.83 crore BOC workers directly into their bank accounts through DBT till December 2020. States are now resorting to channelising the funds to tender and procure household items.
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