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Punjab: Labour rights activist to move court against decision to jab construction workers with their welfare fund

The state has taken Rs 7.5 crore from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board fund with an aim to vaccinate 2.19 crore construction workers in the 18-45 years age group.

By: Express News Service | Chandigarh |
June 10, 2021 9:01:05 pm
At a vaccination camp in Mohali. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

The Punjab government’s decision to dip into the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board fund to vaccinate construction workers against Covid-19 has drawn sharp criticism from labour rights activist and director of Centre for Social Change and Equity, Vijay Walia, who termed the move as “contempt of court”.

Walia, in a telephonic conversation with The Indian Express, said that as per a Supreme Court order of 2012, funds for labour welfare cannot be diverted for any other purposes.

Despite the promise of free vaccination for all in government-run healthcare facilities, an Indian Express report on Wednesday stated that Punjab has dipped into the social welfare fund meant for construction workers to vaccinate them.

The state has taken Rs 7.5 crore from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board fund with an aim to vaccinate 2.19 crore construction workers in the 18-45 years age group.

“It is contempt of court,” Walia said, referring to The Indian Express report.
The labour rights activist also said that Punjab chief secretary Vini Mahajan was in no way empowered to take any decision on behalf of BOCW Welfare Board, and the Chief Minister — being the board chairman— had only a ‘casting vote’ in case of a tie.

The decision to use funds for vaccination of construction workers was taken in a meeting on May 7, chaired by Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan and attended by Additional Chief Secretary (Labour) Vijay Kumar Janjua, Housing & Urban Development Principal Secretary Sarvjit Singh, Public Works Department (B&R) Principal Secretary Vikas Pratap, Water Supply & Sanitation Principal Secretary Jaspreet Talwar, and Health & Family Welfare Principal Secretary Hussan Lal.

In a petition by National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour versus Union of India, the Supreme Court, in an order in 2012, had said that “Funds available with the Welfare Boards shall not be utilized by the state for any other head of expenditure of the state government.”

Walia said, “I have contacted National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour’s national co-ordinator Subhash Bhatnagar to file a writ petition. Due to Covid-19, the courts are closed and we will take a decision regarding further action at an appropriate time.” He added that on May 10, days after the decision to use BOCW Welfare Board fund for vaccination of construction workers, a few registered construction workers approached the labour department to seek the reversal of the decision and refund the amount into Board’s account with interest.

Walia said that if the amount was not deposited back with interest, the said construction workers will also file a petition in court.

Walia also alleged that “un-registered” workers were vaccinated in the drive and to “cover-up”, the labour department was “registering them without factoring mandatory provisions like proof of 90-days of their working as constructions labour and bank account details.”

Additional Chief Secretary (Labour) Vijay Kumar Janjua, responding to Walia’s comments, said, “He is not the final authority to interpret things. The [BOCW] Board is competent to take decisions for the welfare of construction workers.”

On the 2012 Supreme Court order, Janjua said, “I have read the judgment. The Centre was directed to formulate a uniform policy. The idea was to ensure social security for construction workers in case of death, compensation, pension, health insurance, and scholarships for children of construction workers. Seven schemes were made and we have implemented all of them.”

On Walia’s comments that Chief Secretary was not empowered to take any decision concerning the board, Janjua said, “The Chief Minister is the chairman of the board. The decision was taken at CM level.”

On Walia’s assertion that CM cannot take such a decision on behalf of the board, Janjua said, “It is his own interpretation. The CM is competent to take decisions, which can be ex-post-facto ratified by the board.

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