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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

After Punjab, Goa find misappropriation of Building Cess; sarpanch and panchayat members to be probed

The allegations come in the wake of reports of labourers in Goa being abandoned by their contractors and having not been paid during the lockdown.

Written by Smita Nair | Panjim | Published: June 10, 2020 7:56:04 am
After Punjab, Goa find misappropriation of Building Cess; sarpanch and panchayat members to be probed After Punjab, it’s Goa where the construction cess fund has found to have reached bank accounts of “unwarranted persons” with several sarpanchs, panch members and their relatives across Goa having claimed it. (Representational Image)

AFTER Punjab, it’s Goa where the construction cess fund has found to have reached bank accounts of “unwarranted persons” with several sarpanchs, panch members and their relatives across Goa having claimed it.

Labour Commissioner Raju Gawas confirmed the details, and said the first case was when a “woman named Mohini Tari reached the labour office eight days ago saying she wants to remit the amount as she is not a labourer. There were complaints that had shaped in her village Pali against her and she came forward on her own. She also gave details of others who are not the correct beneficiaries. We are probing the documents.”

For now Gawas says the disbursement has stopped and a few months will go in the probe and getting the money back from those who have wrongly identified themselves as building construction workers and misappropriated the funds meant for labouers.

On March 24, in the wake of the pandemic, the Central Government had issued directives to all state governments to release Buidling and Construction cess for beneficiaries under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.

Goa which has a cess of Rs 236 crores has released Rs 4.37 crore. In Goa, the construction activities incurring cost of above Rs 10 lakh are bound to deposit cess at 1% of the cost of construction to the Goa (BoCW) Board.

The total number of registered beneficiaries for now is around 13,443 of which disbursement had begun and Rs 6,000 each were disbursed first to 9393 beneficiaries. Of this only 7288 transfers took place as the rest were cases where the cheque bounced or the money returned due to technical hiccups.

The allegations also come in the wake of reports of labourers in Goa being abandoned by their contractors and having not been paid during the lockdown. A huge number of migrants have also reached government shelter having lost their rented homes.

“Now we are understanding that almost half of those disbursed are panchayat members, former or present sarpanchs, ward members, their siblings and spouses. Most of them do not fit the section 2(d) of the Act which identifies a beneficiary. It’s reserved for those who have worked in the construction of buildings, streets, roads, railways, tramways, airfields, irrigation, drainage, embankment and navigation works…We now have been getting complaints with names of people, none of whom fit the criteria. We will now probe these undeserving beneficiaries,” Gawas added.

On Thursday, the civil society and few activists also called for a press meet after they said they had filed RTI and found discrepancies and had gone and filed a complaint at the Panjim Police Station.

Inacio Domnic Pereira, a complainant said, “we took the details and we did our independent probe and found several cases where the candidates were either panchayat members or even those who were standing for the Zilla Panchayat Election which was scheduled to take place before the lockdown. Many were very well to do locals. We have found lot of political supporters and those who are heading political wings and it seems to us that in many instances this particular scheme was misused by many panchayat members and they routed the Rs 6,000 meant for poor labourer to win support for the local elections,” he said, “we have given the details to the police are looking forward for the case to be registered and probed.

Pereira added that they were the ones to call many of the beneficiaries including ex-sarpanch Mohini Tari and found that she had shown herself as a labourer in a self declaration form. “There is a village Bastora where many people have registered by forging dcouments. Then there are families where each member has shown to be a labouer. We have shared all these details with the Goa Police,” he said.

Gawas said all the allegations will now need to be probed. “This was done through a agency as we were not getting labourers to register. We were getting a very lukewarm response. The agency was also supposed to train the labourers. We then decided to use the network of Panchayat to help the agency and us identify the beneficiaries as in villages panchayats and members have this data. Now we feel it was a big mistake as it has gone to all undeserving people,” he said, adding, “we will have to now cancel each wrong applicant’s registration and correct the wrong transfer and Firs will be also registered in cases.”

Around Rs 31,000 crore was identified as the combined corpus in all states which was lying unspent and was decided to be released to provide relief to workers who had lost their livelihoods and shelter.

In Goa, the Shramik trains have already ferried over one lakh migrant labourers with few trains scheduled for Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal this month.

According to the Labour Department, Goa has over 3 lakh labourers, both migrants and locals with a majority in the building and construction fields. The rest are idenitified as working in the fishing and barge industry.

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