Thousands of construction workers remain deprived of welfare benefits in Delhi with consensus eluding authorities on whether a government or a private agency should bring the necessary software changes for online verification of applications.
The Delhi High Court had on July 17 suggested that the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board should explore the possibility of carrying out verification of applications from workers, for renewal of their memberships with the board for receiving welfare benefits, via video calls.
The board, which comes under the Delhi government’s Labour Department, expressed hesitation over the proposal but the HC said on July 30 and August 26 that it was issuing a direction, not just a suggestion, which the board must implement.
The court intervention came after it emerged — as reported by The Indian Express — that thousands of workers were unable to turn up at labour offices and camps for verification despite applying for renewals and registrations. The court said it may be because workers returned to their villages during the lockdown.
Official records reviewed by The Indian Express show that the board’s first move on allowing verification over video calls was taken on September 4 through a letter to the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to make the necessary “software changes” on the portal. “A meeting was also called in the camp office of Hon’ble Minister Labour cum Chairman (Board) which was also attended by NIC officials as well as officials of IT Department, wherein they were directed to make suitable changes in the software for immediate compliance of the court order,” documents say.
On September 10, the NIC responded to the letter “raising queries on the software and also suggested that this may be done through a third party or any professional agency”.
On September 21, the board wrote back to the NIC saying that since it maintains all online application windows of the Delhi government, “it will be in the fitness of things” that the changes be also brought by it and that NIC should handle any external agency, if required. The board also wrote that the HC has ordered that to ensure Covid-19 relief reaches the workers, online renewal verification through video calls be allowed and a log of each such call be maintained.
“Since NIC is the technical expert and presently the e-district portal of the Board is being run and maintained by them, NIC being the domain expert was requested to take up this matter and provide a solution at the earliest.
“In view of the discussion held in the meeting, it is requested that a timeline for rolling out this facility may be provided at the earliest in view of the direction of the Hon’ble High Court, so that a compliance/ reply may be filed in the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi before next date of hearing,” the letter states.
While members of the welfare board are entitled to many benefits covering a range of areas from health to marriages, the court had taken up the matter following a PIL filed by social activist Sunil Kumar Aledia on the gradual dip in the number of registered workers between 2015 and 2020.
In 2015, the number of active workers were over 1.28 lakh. It came down to less than 40,000 by 2020, which came to light during the disbursal of Rs 10,000 each for workers registered with the board to tide over financial distress due to the lockdown in April and May.
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