Five months ago, when Babita (25) moved to a Delhi government school construction site near the capital’s busy Ashram intersection with her family of four, she was expecting a baby. While Babita’s father and husband were promised Rs 550 daily wages as mistrys, her mother signed up for Rs 300 per day as a mazdoor.
The prospect of a steady income held promise of regular meals, access to healthcare, particularly for Babita, a resident of Bihar’s Purnia district, whose medical reports diagnosed her as underweight and anaemic. The family, along with scores of other labourers, toiled and the school building gradually took shape. The promised pay, however, eluded them, and the other labourers, mostly migrants.
In August, the Delhi government held a camp at the school to register construction workers with the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, a statutory body which mandates medical assistance, financial assistance, maternity benefits for mistrys and mazdoors. Babita and her family failed to get registered. “They clicked our pictures, took Aadhaar cards, but our labour card was never made. We were pushed into poverty,” claimed Mahendra Mandal, Babita’s father.
On September 17, she gave birth to a girl at a government health facility at Jangpura. On October 24, the infant died. “Had we been paid we could have saved the baby,” said Lukha Devi, Babita’s mother.
“After delivery, we were sent home saying the baby is doing fine. We took her to the hospital a few times but no one seemed bothered. Perhaps money could have ensured better treatment,” said Mahendra. He was not aware that the labour card also comes with a maternity benefit of Rs 30,000.
As on November 1, the contractor — Ghaziabad-based Reliance Electric Works — owes the family around Rs 50,000, said Mahendra. When contacted, the proprietor of the firm, Kunal Jindal, told The Indian Express, “Is it possible that they went without food and water for so many days?”
Workers and officials associated with the project maintained they have not been paid. “In the last 1.5 years, the contractor released Rs 2 lakh for the labourers. Using that, some workers who were owed up to Rs 12,000 could be given Rs 5,000-6,000. The rest are occasionally paid to ensure they don’t starve. Many have left but are replaced. This is a vicious cycle,” an official said.
The complicated registration process under the welfare board is mired in irregularities, with its deputy secretaries facing charges of bribery. The Delhi government recently put Deputy CM Manish Sisodia in charge of the labour department, replacing Gopal Rai.
While the family originally hails from Bihar, they live in a slum at Shahbad Dairy. “Officials told workers at the site that as they are not from Delhi, their labour cards cannot be made, which is against the law… Not one labour official has inspected the site in the last 1.5 years,” said a labour contractor.
Currently, 52,000 workers, whose memberships are active, are enrolled with the board, which is down from 1.28 lakh in 2015, as reported by The Indian Express, which is the subject of an ongoing PIL in the Delhi HC. Around 66,000 applications are pending for verification, which Sisodia said will be taken up on a priority basis.
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