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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Punjab dips into construction workers’ fund to vaccinate them

The state has taken Rs 7.5 crore from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board fund with an aim to vaccinate 2.19 crore construction workers in the 18-45 years age group.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amristar |
Updated: June 9, 2021 7:37:16 am
At a vaccination camp in Mohali. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

Despite the promise of free vaccination for all in government-run healthcare facilities, Punjab has dipped into the social welfare fund meant for construction workers to vaccinate them.

The state has taken Rs 7.5 crore from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board fund with an aim to vaccinate 2.19 crore construction workers in the 18-45 years age group.

This while Punjab government hospitals are providing free vaccination to shopkeepers, their employees and street hawkers under the age of 45 on recommendations of the state government. Though technically construction workers are also part of this category, no other department for any other category being vaccinated in the 18+ bracket has provided funds for vaccine procurement.

The BOCW fund, amassed through construction cess, is under the control of respective states. The BOCW Welfare Cess provides for levy and collection of cess at such rate not exceeding 2 per cent, but not less than 1 per cent of the cost of construction as the Central government may notify. In Punjab, there is a corpus of around Rs 1,000 crore collected through construction cess.

Fearing leakage and misuse of BOCW cess, the Directorate General Labour Welfare under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment had in March this year directed all states not to provide any “in-kind benefit” using this fund. This was done after The Indian Express had reported that some states were using construction workers’ welfare cess fund for distribution of lanterns, blankets, umbrellas, household items, toolkits and utensils.

Sources in the Punjab government said that Centre knows about these funds being used by the state and has so far not objected to it.

V K Janjua, principal secretary, Punjab Labour Department, said that BOCW board, headed by Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, is competent to take any decision for the welfare of the construction workers. “We are giving benefit to the construction workers by vaccinating them, not others.”

On Centre’s advisory on the use of these funds, he said, “Some states used funds to buy laptops, washing machines and TVs. But we didn’t do that. We are using it for vaccination. We had also made direct payment of Rs 180 crore into around three lakh construction workers’ accounts from same funds during lockdown.”

On why welfare fund meant for an economically weaker section like construction workers was used, when it is free for others, he said, “Use of funds for vaccination is justified.”

Punjab Covid-19 nodal officer Rajesh Bhaskar said, “These categories were formed on the basis of opinion given by Punjab experts. Labour Department had some welfare funds and it was proposed to provide these funds for vaccine procurement. No other department has provided funds for the vaccination procurement.”

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