Under fire for the recent deaths of construction workers in Pune and Mumbai, the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board denied allegations that it was not doing enough to protect the lives of construction workers, claiming that it has implemented schemes worth Rs 650 crore in the last eight years.
“In the last eight years, the board has spent Rs 650 crore on welfare schemes and to provide safety equipment for construction workers in Maharashtra,” said S C Shrirangam, CEO of the board, which has its headquarters in Mumbai. The reaction comes after allegations by workers’ organisations such as Bandhkam Mazdoor Sabha and Bandhkam Kamgar Sena that the welfare board was not concerned with the safety of workers and not serious about improving their lot. Neelam Gorhe, the deputy chairperson of the state Legislative Council, had also criticised the Labour Commissioner and the board for not taking strong steps to improve the living and working conditions of labourers.
Labour Commissioner Rajiv Jadhav, a member of the welfare board, said, “From the number of welfare schemes that we are implementing throughout the year, it becomes clear that the board was not lacking…” Shrirangam said the welfare board will set up offices in at least 20-odd locations and will have enough manpower and machinery. “Currently, we are functioning from the Labour Commissioner’s office. Soon we will have our own offices,” he said.
The board said the state Urban Development Department is likely to issue instructions to civic bodies across the state to ensure that builders set up proper shelters for labourers. Members of the Bandhkam Mazdoor Sabha, who are on hunger strike, have demanded that district-wise welfare boards should be set up and each board should be provided adequate manpower and machinery. However, Shrirangam said the Building and Other Construction Workers Act permits only one board at the state level. “This is similar in all states. Only one board has been permitted under the Act,” he said.
The board also denied that it has Rs 30,000 crore in funds, as alleged by Bandhkam Mazdoor Sabha. “We have around Rs 8,500 crore in funds. This mainly comes from 1 per cent cess collected from builders across the state and registration fees of workers,” said Shrirangam.
The welfare board’s CEO said it runs 29 welfare schemes under four group schemes, with focus areas such as social security, financial assistance, health and education. “Under the educational scheme, the board provides scholarship from Class I to graduation and even beyond for children of construction workers,” he said.
The CEO said the welfare board also distributes safety equipment to workers on a regular basis. “The safety kit has helmets, jackets, gumboots, gloves and harness. Nearly three lakh workers have been given the safety equipment so far,” he claimed. Under the financial assistance scheme, the kin of labourers who die at construction sites gets Rs 5 lakh. Shrirangam claimed Rs 10,000 is given for the funeral and Rs 24,000 is given to the family of the victim for a period of five years.
He also said the families of construction workers who die at places other than construction sites get Rs 2 lakh. Families of those who suffer “50 per cent disability” at construction sites get Rs 2 lakh.