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COVID-19: Unions Press for 2nd Instalment of Aid to Construction Workers in Delhi

They also demand financial assistance to those whose application to activate membership with the welfare board is “currently pending”.
Construction workers Delhi.

Almost a month into the lockdown in the national capital that has brought economic activities to halt, construction sector unions are pressing for second instalment of aid to the workers registered with the welfare board.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – led Delhi government had last month announced a financial assistance of Rs. 5,000 by the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (DBOCWWB) to its registered construction workers in the wake of the pandemic-induced shutdown measure.

A complete lockdown was imposed in Delhi from April 19 by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as positivity rate, an index of the pandemic’s current severity and its potential spread, remained high.

“Nearly all the workers registered with the [welfare] board in Delhi have so far received the first instalment of the assistance,” Thaneshwar Dayal Adigaur, a member of the advisory committee to the Delhi government that oversees matters relating to the construction workers’ welfare board, told NewsClick on May 13.

He added that there have been technical glitches due to which others have been unable to receive the amount in their bank accounts as yet.

Siddheshwar Shukla, member of the welfare board in Delhi, said that construction sector unions have now demanded to continue the financial assistance for next month as well. “The medical situation in Delhi is still grave. There are chances that the lockdown will extend further. Given that, these workers who often live on a hand-to-mouth basis must be protected,” said Shukla, who is also a part of the Centre of Indian Trade Union-backed Rajdhani Bhavan Nirman Kamgar Union.

Also read: Delhi Govt’s Drive to Register Construction Workers Has Many Glitches

According to him, the money anyway “does not belong to the Delhi government but to the board.”

As per law, a cess, calculated based on the cost of construction, is paid by an employer in advance towards the welfare of the construction workers to the board, managed by respective state governments. DBOCWWB is thus a statutory body with a corpus of over Rs. 3,200 crore.

Active membership of a construction worker with the welfare board is the prerequisite to claim the benefits mandated by it. The benefits for a registered worker with the board include medical assistance and paid maternity leaves among others.

According to Delhi government estimates, a total of 2,10,684 construction workers are currently registered with the board, making them eligible for the granted disbursal.

Subhash Bhatnagar, coordinator, National Campaign Committee for Construction Labour (NCC-CL) however, claimed that there are actually about “10 crore construction workers in the capital”.

The matter pertaining to the huge number of unregistered construction workers in the capital was also brought to the fore, when a public litigation regarding the same was filed in the Delhi High Court last year. In a similar assistance announced last year, the AAP government stated that aid was then disbursed to only about 55,000 construction workers.

Following Delhi HC’s rap, a drive was launched for registering labourers engaged in construction work in the capital in August last year. A similar attempt was also made as recently as in February this year by the AAP government.

But the situation on ground remains only “marginally improved,” lamented Bhatnagar. “We are receiving complaints of many construction workers who have not received their pending wages. In many cases, the contractor has run away. What support do these workers – who are in majority – have?,” he asked.

Adigaur of the advisory committee claimed that there are “around 80,000 construction workers” whose applications to activate their membership with the welfare board “is currently pending”. “What can be done is that at least these workers must be made eligible to receive the aid from the board,” he said.

Meanwhile, other states including Maharashtra and Punjab, too, have recently announced to financially assist the construction sector workers in their respective states through the state welfare boards. 

Last year, in an advisory, Union Ministry of Labour and Employment had directed all the states and union territories to use funds, collected over the years under the construction welfare boards, to provide an aid to this marginalised section of workers. However, such a directive has not been issued this time around.

Moreover, as lockdowns persist in most of the states, including the capital, a graver problem is on the horizon – of the inability to purchase ration – for the construction sector workers, most of whom are daily wagers.

In Delhi, Shukla of the CITU-backed union said that they have begun ration distribution in selected areas already. “Things won’t be easy – especially for those not receiving any support,” he said.

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