Santosh Kumari was 18 when she submitted an application in June 2016 under the Rajasthan government’s Shubh Shakti scheme. Santosh is 22 now, and still waiting for the money promised under the scheme.
The Shubh Shakti Yojana was started in January 2016 by the previous BJP government to empower unmarried daughters of building and other construction workers with a grant of Rs 55,000. Santosh, who lives in Devdungri village in Rajsamand district, had been banking on the money to chase her dream of studying nursing.
“I had hoped that I could go to a city such as Udaipur to study nursing. I felt the money would pay academic expenses, and help sustain me in the city,” she said. Santosh’s parents are daily wage labourers, and her mother’s labour card made her eligible for the scheme.
Waiting for the money, Santosh delayed taking admission in college by a year after Class 12. “I didn’t want the money to get married,” she said. “I wanted to study and later help my parents with my income as a nurse. But I had to finally take admission in a BA course in a college in Bheem in Rajsamand.”
Santosh is now in the final year of college. The physical verification required under the scheme was recently completed, but she reckons it will probably be too late by the time she gets the money, if ever.
Many young women and their parents across the state have stories similar to Santosh’s. Women applying under the scheme needed to be at least 18 years old, passed at least Class 8, and their parents had to be registered as building and construction workers with the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (BOCW) Board.
Data on pendency under the Shubh Shakti scheme on the online portal of the Rajasthan Labour Department show that in the last five years, only around 22 per cent of applications were approved. The Labour Department received more than 3.4 lakh applications during this time, around 76,000 of which were approved.
Labour Department officials said the money under the scheme comes from the BOCW Welfare Fund created from cess collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. According to the objectives of the scheme, it is expected that women would use the money for purposes such as education, skill-training, starting businesses or as marriage expenses.
“I applied for the Shubh Shakti scheme three years ago. We often ask officials about the progress but nobody can say when I will receive the amount. We have furnished all required documents,” said 21-year-old Kanchan Kanwar, a resident of Pali district, who had applied in 2017. Kanchan said her mother is a MNREGS labourer and has a BOCW card.
Activists say the delay in the disbursement denies better opportunities to women from economically weak families. “The fact that many eligible beneficiaries of the Shubh Shakti scheme have received no money despite applying three-four years ago reflects the incompetence of the administration. These beneficiaries come from extremely poor backgrounds. This shows that the money collected as BOCW cess, which is meant for the welfare of construction workers and labourers, is not reaching the needy,” Mukesh Goswami, joint secretary of the Rajasthan Unorganised Workers’ Union, said.
Labour Department officials said the money in the BOCW Fund is spent “priority-wise”.
“Resources are limited, and the money in the BOCW Fund is spend priority-wise after it is decided which person needs it the most. Money from the Fund provides help to many workers and labourers suffering from silicosis and other illnesses along with other welfare schemes,” Rajasthan Labour Commissioner Prateek Jhajharia told The Indian Express.
“We have also seen a large number of irregularities in the Shubh Shakti scheme in the past. That is why we regularly conduct social audits, and 50 per cent physical verification has been made compulsory. This requires time. We want to ensure that no ineligible person takes advantage of the scheme,” the Commissioner said.
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