The disbursal of the Delhi government’s one-time assistance amount of Rs 5,000 each to construction labourers in the city to help them tide over the coronavirus lockdown period faces obstacles, with thousands of workers falling off the grid of the city’s welfare board in recent years.
Records available with The Indian Express show that between 2015 and 2020, the number of registered workers came down from over 3 lakh to less than 40,000. Labour Minister Gopal Rai said the numbers have come down but the government was working on making the system more transparent.
On Wednesday, the Delhi government said it has released the assistance amount to 32,358 registered workers. “The money is being transferred directly to the account of these labourers. A total amount of Rs 16.18 crore has been given to registered construction workers of Delhi. The government will soon give the assistance amount to nearly 9,000 workers as well to those whose applications are pending. A total amount of Rs 4.5 crore will be disbursed.
Moreover, pension of 200 construction workers has also been released up to March 31,” it said.
However, in many cases, construction labourers are not registered with the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, which handles the corpus. Plus, the labour department had made the registration process more extensive last year, under which every applicant is expected to fill up a 12-page form.
Officially, 37,127 construction labourers are registered with the board currently, while 9,149 applications are under process — a far cry from the lakhs working in the capital. Past records indicate thousands of workers disappeared from the registered list since 2015.
In 2015, the board had 3.17 lakh registered workers; the number fell to 62,663 in 2017-18; and further over the next three years. While many workers routinely fall off the grid of the safety net due to their inability to stick to the compulsory annual renewal, mandated under the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, the numbers in Delhi appear to have dipped between 2016-2020 due to a “verification drive”.
“Construction workers keep coming and going and the law demands annual renewals. Due to that, many drop out of the system. On top of that, we got a few complaints on fake registrations and those are being verified and probed. So, we are moving the entire system online, instead of the current over-the-counter registration process. Workers will be assisted by unions and others in filling up the applications,” Rai told The Indian Express.
The Act stipulates that 1% of any public or private construction project costing over Rs 10 lakh has to be set aside as cess. “Under the drive, registered workers were asked by Labour Department to submit forms. They were told an online database will be created. On submitting, every worker was given a receiving slip. Last year, the application form was changed. A simple four-page form became 12 pages long. Many registered workers vanished from the list, leaving about 37,000,” an official said.
Delhi’s welfare board secretary Philip said he was not in a position to comment, while Labour Commissioner Manoj Kumar said he does not have details as he joined the department recently.
Records also show that in March 2015, soon after AAP came to power, the annual renewal process was revised, allowing registered workers to go for renewal every three years. However, the order was reversed in August, and the one-year rule was restored through a circular signed by then Deputy Labour Commissioner Jitender Kumar.
A look at the 12-page form shows that applicants are expected to share personal details, including Aadhaar numbers; details and Aadhaar numbers of their family members; present and permanent address proof; address of last workplace where the applicant worked over 90 days; name and contact details of contractor; details of registered union of which the applicant is a member; colour photos of self and family members; details of bank account, among others.
“The previous form was only four pages and much easier for workers. Even then, many would find themselves out of the safety net for showing up for renewal a day or two late, but the system is in mess now,” said Rajesh Kumar, general secretary of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions.
As per data shared by the government in the Delhi Assembly in 2018, the board was formed in Delhi in 2002 and has since amassed over Rs 2,000 crore as cess collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996. Under the law, a registered worker can get assistance of up to Rs 10,000 on being hospitalised for five or more days. A building worker aged above 60 is entitled to pension of Rs 3,000 a month. The disability pension is also Rs 3,000 a month.
Workers are also entitled to get educational and maternity assistance and loans for purchase of work-related tools. In 2017-18, only Rs 2,000 was granted for purchase of tools, with many failing to avail its benefit as the amount is given to a worker on a reimbursement basis upon the production of purchase receipts.
In 2018, the board was providing pension benefits to only 146 workers, while the number of workers getting disability pension stood at two.
The Supreme Court has in the past questioned states over the unspent money.
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