April 19, 2020 1:42:48 am
Rolling out its first financial assistance package since the nationwide lockdown, the Maharashtra government on Saturday announced a cash dole of Rs 2,000 each to construction workers affected by the pandemic.
“Due to the lockdown, real estate sector work has come to a standstill like in many other sectors. As a result, the workers are left without daily wages. Survival has become a challenge. Therefore, the government has decided to give Rs 2,000 to every registered worker in the building and construction sector. It will benefit more than 12 lakh workers,” said Labour Minister Dilip Walse-Patil. The move will cost the exchequer Rs 240 crore.
According to Walse-Patil, the benefit, to be provided in the form of direct bank transfers, will be available to all those registered and active with the state-run Maharashtra Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. The minister said the decision was taken following consultations with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.
Sources in the state labour department said the Welfare Board has been asked to initiate the process of transferring the money at the earliest. But the sources added that it was unlikely to be completed by next week.
Maharashtra collects one per cent cess from property developers funding welfare activities for construction workers, which is deposited with the board. It currently holds deposits worth Rs 8,500 crore. S C Shrirangam, the board’s Chief Executive Officer, when contacted, said, “While a total of 22.72 lakh workers are registered with the board, only 12.18 lakh among these were found active when the records were last updated (in January, 2020).” The latter will be entitled to the cash benefit.
With economic activity coming to a screeching halt during the lockdown, the livelihood of most workers is at stake. A proposal for cash handouts for workers employed by other sectors was also considered, but senior officials said that the lack of accurate data in this regard saw the government defer plans.
Vishwas Utagi, convener, Trade Union Joint Action Committee, an umbrella outfit of 35 trade unions, also complained that the amount being provided even to the registered construction workers was meagre. “It is their own money. It is not from the government’s pocket. We had demanded at least Rs 5,000 per worker.” Utagi also claimed that several lakh construction workers were not registered with the board. “Norms require the contractor to certify 90 days minimum work. Often the contractors do not issue such certificates, making workers ineligible for registration with the board.” Bilal Khan, activist, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, which fights for the welfare of labourers, echoed this viewpoint. “A sizeable number will miss out,” he said.
In another decision, Agriculture Minister Dadasaheb Bhuse has ordered cotton procurement centres to start operations from April 20 to facilitate quick payment to farmers. Farmers in Vidarbha, Marathwada and parts of North Maharashtra are facing hardships following non-procurement of the cash crop since March 24. The minimum support price for the cash crop is Rs 5,500 per quintal. But private operators are taking advantage because of the lockdown.
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