A protest was staged by multiple bodies representing construction workers in the national capital on Monday, November 9, to press the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to release third instalment of the financial assistance – Rs 5,000 – for the said workers. The aid was first announced in the month of April this year to help construction workers tide over the lockdown woes.
The protest, called by Rajdhani Bhavan Nirman Kamgar Union, a construction workers’ body backed by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), also saw other demands being raised including acceleration of the process of registration/renewal of the workers with the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, 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 the later, along with the cash dole. The benefits for a registered worker with the board include medical assistance, paid maternity leaves among others.
Demonstrations on Monday were staged at seven labour offices, situated in different regions of the city. The workers also submitted a memorandum addressed to Deputy Secretary of the Delhi’s welfare board, which carried accusations against the AAP government of adopting a “lackadaisical approach.”
With construction activities across the country brought to a grinding halt due to the pandemic-triggered lockdown in March, workers in this sector – already precarious – were further pushed to the wall.
Even as the Delhi government allowed construction later in May in the national capital, the lockdown-induced scars on the sector continue to hurt the workers. Union leaders claim that surviving for the vulnerable construction worker is harder than ever – with sparse employment opportunities and dipping daily wages.
Also read: Construction Workers Protest to Highlight Plight During Lockdown
“The construction sector is still recovering to its pre-COVID levels and hence, employment opportunities are currently not enough. In addition to that, daily wages are lower than before. Both the factors are contributing in breaking the back of a construction worker,” Delhi NCR CITU President Virendra Gaur told NewsClick.
In such difficult times, the AAP government must continue with the aid to the workers, he added.
The second instalment of the cash assistance to the construction workers was announced in the month of May by the then Delhi’s Labour Minister Gopal Rai. Currently, the charge of labour ministry is with Manish Sisodia, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister.
Rai had then claimed that to help unregistered construction workers get registered, the process will be taken online, which was also expected to speed up the registrations/renewal.
Thaneshwar Dayal Adigaur of the Nirman Mazdoor Adhikar Abhiyan, a coming together of almost 40 registered construction workers’ bodies in the city, however, pointed out several problems that the registration process is still marred with. “As a result, even now there are only about 80,000 active members with the welfare board,” he said, adding the figure includes both who have been recently registered and those whose membership have been renewed.
Adiguar, who is also a member of an advisory committee to the Delhi government, pegged the total number of construction workers in the capital to be over 10 lakh. He also alleged that till now, “not more than 40,000” have received the Rs. 5,000 as financial assistance. “Many of them have not received their second instalments,” he added.
Part of the problem of why so less construction workers are registered with the welfare board, according to Adigaur, is due to high numbers of rejections. “There is no provision for a worker to make amendments to his/her entries on the registration portal. Also, a construction worker does not have much option when it comes to choosing nominees,” he said.
Only their parents or spouse can be chosen as a nominee, he added, who shall receive the benefits under the welfare board post the death of the registered worker. “As with many workers, the parents are either dead or the spouses themselves are registered with the board, in which case he/she can’t become the nominee,” Adigaur explained.
Moreover, the registration process is so lengthy and require so many documents that workers often find themselves having to go to cyber cafe or any middlemen. “In such situations, a worker is often charged Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 – an amount that is not surprisingly unaffordable to many of them,” he told NewsClick.
Waking up to such issues, the Arvind Kejriwal – led AAP government launched a 15-day long ‘Nirman Mazdoor Registration Abhiyan’ from August 24 under which 70 camps – one in each constituency – were set up to facilitate the registration process.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, executive director of Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), told NewsClick that out of over a lakh workers who visited the registration camps, “only about 3,000 were rewarded the active membership,” which included all those who were newly registered as well as those who got their membership renewed.
The findings, which were part of a survey carried out by CHD during the campaign period, were shared with the Delhi High Court on September 21, which is hearing a petition filed by Aledia in May.
The petition had sought registration of all construction workers under the welfare board. “Despite many directions by the High Court to the Delhi government, registration of workers lag,” Aledia rued. The next date of hearing, he added, is on November 18.
Meanwhile, Adigaur of Mazdoor Adhikar Abhiyan, accused the AAP government of not holding one single meeting of the advisory committee since June last year. Even the welfare board hasn’t met since the past six months.
The Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002 mandates advisory committee to convene a meeting once every six months; and the welfare board once every two months.