Over 5 lakh construction workers in Delhi, who fell off the safety net under the watch of the city’s welfare board, cannot be deprived of benefits just because they were unable to renew their annual registration with it, the Delhi High Court has said.
In its order, the court has directed the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board — which comes under the Labour Department — to take steps to renew the membership of all workers, so that the associated benefits help them cushion lockdown-induced loss of earnings.
The order came on a PIL filed by rights activist Sunil Kumar Aledia — citing a report published in The Indian Express on April 2 — on the steep fall in membership of the board between 2015 and 2020 due to lack of annual renewals, a complicated membership form, and a verification drive.
The report highlighted how the assistance of Rs 5,000, which the Centre had advised states to transfer into the accounts of workers registered with the board, means little as the membership of lakhs of workers have lapsed over the last five years, despite the fact that the board has corpus of over Rs 2,000 crore.
“It, thus, appears that only a fraction of the originally registered construction workers have been able to avail of the ex-gratia relief granted by the respondents, due to them not having renewed their registration. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs, and the respondents are obliged to take effective steps to encourage construction workers — who are otherwise eligible — to renew their registration so that the intended benefit can reach them as well.
“We are of the view that in view of the prevailing lockdown and, since the print media is practicably out of action, it is essential that all earlier registered construction workers, which were 5,39,421 as on 30.09.2018 (and others too may have registered thereafter) minus those whose registrations are now live, should be sent out appropriate communication through SMS on their registered mobile numbers — informing them of the decision of the government to make ex-gratia direct transfers to their registered accounts, and they should also be informed of the manner in which they could renew their registration,” the HC said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the government has been directed by the court to send the messages, preferably in Hindi, within four days. It has also directed the board to make its website bilingual, expressing concern over the fact that it is in English now, “considering the strata of the society from which the construction workforce comes”.
“We are, therefore, of the view that the Board should disburse the ex-gratia amounts, as disbursed since March 2020, even to those registrants whose registration may have lapsed but are subsequently renewed by the Board after due verification,” the court added.
The board has so far been able to transfer Rs 5,000 each to 39,600 workers, whose memberships are active, in the months of April and May. Currently, it is carrying out an online drive to register more workers, having informed the court about the difficulty for workers to access the internet.
Every state has one such welfare board which runs an array of welfare schemes for them, funded by the cess collected from projects under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.
Under the Act, a building worker is eligible for registration only if he or she has been engaged in building or construction work for not less than 90 days during the preceding 12 months. The registration has to be renewed annually.
The 12-page form that every worker is expected to fill involves sharing Aadhaar number details; and Aadhar 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 photographs of self and family members; and details of bank account, among others.
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