Delhi’s face-lift in full swing, but workers ignored


New Delhi : Toiling day and night to make Delhi a world-class city for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, thousands of workers at construction sites across the capital face harsh living conditions as policies for their betterment lie unimplemented and monitoring of their plight sidelined, rights groups and NGOs say.

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The capital will see an estimated investment of $5.7 billion on city infrastructure, urban planning and sports facilities for the Games.

A study by Building and Woodworkers International, a global industry lobby, estimates that 300,000 workers would be needed for this level of activity over the next three years. Among them are about 100,000 unskilled construction workers, of which 10,000 are women and 20,000 are children.

CWC-CWG (Citizens Workers, Women and Children-Commonwealth Games), an NGO engaged in the areas of workers’ security, safety and rights, says it would require a mere 0.35 percent of construction costs to take care of these workers and ensure them their rights.

At a sensitization programme organized here earlier this week, field workers, NGO workers, mediapersons, welfare board representatives, a state government representative and even a few construction workers themselves highlighted the yawning gap between policies for their betterment and their execution.

A major issue highlighted was the need for systematic registration of the workers before granting them benefits like insurance, ration cards, crèches and scholarships for children.

Thus, the common refrain was: “There is a need to make the most of the three-year window of opportunity before the Games to address the workers’ plight in a timely manner by spreading awareness about the benefits of registration and enhancing the administrative mechanism.”

What then is the condition of these workers? Are they being given their dues? The question was answered in a film titled “Exclusive cities, Inclusive growth” showcasing the worker’s woes.

The film relayed the plight of disgruntled workers at construction sites across the national capital territory – some of whom have got themselves registered but have not been able to reap any policy benefits, while others are skeptical to get registered as this means parting with a portion of their already meagre wages.

For instance, if a construction worker earns Rs.80 a day, he or she would have to pay Rs.16 for only registering.

A policy for workers’ betterment was drawn up by the Delhi Building and Other Construction Worker’s Welfare Board (DBOCWWB) in September 2005, when it was decided to register the workers through the Citizen Service Bureaus (CSB) of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

“Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit met with the workers on Aug 11. She promised that benefits and payments would reach the workers who were registered and that they would be given ration cards, identity and insurance cards and scholarship benefits,” said Subhash Bhatnagar, Secretary of the Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam, an NGO engaged in workers’ welfare.

“Till date there has been no progress on this; nor has the promised meeting between the board and the (Delhi government’s) labour department been called,” Bhatnagar averred.

There is, however, a hint of movement forward. Five crèches for children of construction workers have been set up at three labour settlements and two construction sites, including at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that will be main venue of the Commonwealth Games. Sadly, this is hardly proportionate to the 300,000-odd workers in the capital today.

“Mapping of workers at construction sites and labour settlements has also been carried out. The mapping was completed in August, and the report is awaited. These are the initial steps before the registration can begin and benefits can be granted,” said Rashmi Singh, director of the Delhi government’s Mission Convergence.

Also called Samajik Suvidha Sangam, the mission is tasked with converging schemes from various Delhi government departments and ensuring they reach the workers at the Commonwealth Games sites.

“We are trying to ensure that workers are able to draw benefits from existing policies. We want to involve district level officials in the process and make it a more community driven effort.

“Through the convergence mission, we are trying to link nodal officers with the labour, social welfare, SC/ST and other departments so that the entire administration is mobilized.” Singh added.