In the midst of a near-nationwide lockdown in the country to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce emergency measures and wage support to those in distress, including construction workers and those working in the unorganised sector.
Writing to the Prime Minister, Gandhi said over 44 million construction workers are now faced with a “precarious” future as many of them are stranded in cities and are deprived of livelihood due to the lockdown. These measures, she said, have led to “widespread economic disruptions that had a debilitating impact on the informal sector”.
In a bid to contain the spread of the virus, almost the entire country has been put under a lockdown till March 31, with authorities banning gathering of people and suspending road, rail and air traffic, all kinds of construction work, among other nonessential requirements. Over 500 coronavirus cases, including nine deaths have been reported in India so far, according to Health Ministry data on Tuesday.
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While the Central government is yet to announce any financial package for unorganised sector workers, Kerala took the lead, followed by Uttar Pradesh last week, and Punjab and Uttarakhand, on Sunday. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal Tuesday announced a compensation of Rs 5000 each to all construction workers whose livelihood has been affected.
“As the second largest employer in India, over 44 million construction workers are now faced with a precarious future. Many are stranded in cities and are deprived of their livelihoods due to the stringent lock down measures,” the Congress chief told PM Modi.
In a separate letter to chief ministers of Congress-ruled state, Gandhi urged them to ensure urgent wage support to construction workers who are now deprived of work due to these restrictions.
“The construction sector is still reeling under the twin blow of demonetisation and GST, and slowdown triggered by COVID-19 is likely to further deepen the crisis. While lakhs of migrant workers fled large cities over the last week due to panic and stoppage of work, many are left stranded due to stringent lockdown measures and closure of public transport. Given their dependence of daily wages, it is important to provide urgent wage support to construction workers who have been deprived of work,” she wrote.
State Welfare Boards set up under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 have a large pool of unutilised funds collected through the levy of Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess, she told the Congress chief ministers. Given that a significant amount of cess lies unutilised, the State Welfare Boards may consider providing wage support to their registered beneficiaries, she said.
Citing Canada’s example of announcing wage subsidy measures as part of its Covid 19 economic response plan, Gandhi urged the CMs to “advise the State Welfare Boards to take necessary action at the earliest” and to keep her informed of the progress in the matter.
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