‘Rs.20 bn labour welfare fund, not a rupee spent’

By Shweta Srinivasan and Nayan Sakhuja, IANS,

New Delhi : The Delhi government has collected Rs.20 billion as cess fund from the construction industry but allegedly failed to provide the promised social security to labourers. Labour unions and activists claim that not a rupee has been spent despite existing laws.

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Since the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act, 1996, and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 came into force, the government has collected Rs.20 billion for the welfare of labourers in the capital, said Subash Bhatnagar, secretary of Nirman Panchayat Mazdoor Sangam (NMPS), a national workers’ union syndicate.

“Despite the collection of cess, promises of housing schemes, proper identity cards and social security lie unfulfilled,” Bhatnagar told IANS.

Bhatnagar is also coordinator for the National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL). Along with various NGOs working for worker’s welfare, the campaign wants to push for the release of the funds and its proper use.

Legal experts like Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, the campaign’s chairperson, and Supreme Court senior advocate R. Venkatramani as well as social activists like Mina Swaminathan (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation), Mridula Bajaj (Mobile Creches) and Devika Singh of CWG-CWC (Commonwealth Games-Citizens for Workers, Women and Children) are among the 30 people who have written an open letter released Wednesday in support of the campaign.

In the letter, they have appealed to President Pratibha Patil for immediate action and dispatch of funds meant for labour welfare.

“The Delhi Cess Board is not ready to pay up. Although Delhi is where the laws were first enforced, the implementation in shoddy. These laws have been there for over 10 years still neither the central government nor the state government have implemented it properly,” said Bhatnagar.

Former bureaucrat Kamal Jaiswal, director of Common Cause – a civil society group, said: “We already have a history of the Asian Games that were held in 1982 where the plight of the construction workers was terrible. Now this is becoming more poignant for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.”

“The government should sit up and take interest in the needs of these thousands of workers. Many schemes of the government for the welfare of the construction workers and their families exist but money has not been granted by the board,” he added.

Activists pointed out that the cess funds maybe put to use for the proposed housing scheme for labourers – but how useful would that be?

Ishwar Sharma, a construction worker in north Delhi’s Rohini area, said: “We need identity cards. The government should take care of us and our families. We need social security, not those houses they are planning far away from the city. We need help so that we don’t have to rely on our indifferent contractors.”

The capital will see an estimated investment of $5.7 billion on city infrastructure, urban planning and sports facilities for the Commonwealth Games. The CWG-CWC says that a mere 0.35 percent of construction costs to take care of these workers and ensure them their rights.

Schemes for medical care, identity card renewals and education for workers children introduced in other states – like Madhya Pradesh that has approximately 700,000- 800,000 workers – have been successful.

“Governments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry have been working well and have excellent arrangements for the workers who can take advantage of the facilities given. Then why is Delhi lagging behind?” Bhatnagar questioned.

Mohan, a 40-year-old construction worker, said the Delhi government’s “feeble attempts” at providing scholarships to labourers’ children have been useless.

“Leave alone facilities for us – even the children have not benefited from their schemes. No scholarship has been provided to any child till now. When other states have the same schemes as us – then why is that all facilities are made available there but not to us?”

Jainendra Sharma, who has been a construction labourer for 35 years, told IANS: “Schemes like NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) are advertised and people are aware of them – similarly rights for construction workers should also be advertised. Only one percent of the construction workers in Delhi know about their entitlements.”

(The reporters can be contacted at shweta.s @ians.in and [email protected])