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42 Labourers Die, Rs 7,000 Crore Worth Welfare Funds Unused in Maharashtra

The Maharashtra state labour board has funds worth of Rs 7,482 crore presently, according to the board's website. However, only Rs 722 crore have been spent till now.
Labour Welfare Funds

As rains lash out in Maharashtra's coastal area, the number of accidental deaths of labourers are on the rise. In  Mumbai, 18 labourers lost their lives in a single incident when they got crushed under a compound wall while they were sleeping. A similar incident took place in Kalyan killing three more labourers including a pregnant woman, while in Kondhava of Pune, six labourers died in one incident, while the second incident claimed 15 lives. The increasing number of such accidents have raised questions on the security of labourers.

A majority of these daily wage labourers are working in the real estate sector. Being one of the most urbanised states of India, Maharashtra's real estate sector gives work to lakhs of labourers from all over India, especially Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Telangana. Within Maharashtra, the labour flows comes from Marathwada and Western Vidarbha to Pune and Mumbai.

As per the 2001 census of labourers in building and construction sector, Maharashtra had 14.09 lakh labourers. By 2011, the number had increased by almost 16%, taking the number of labourers to 17.5 lakh. However, these are only the registered numbers. As per the rules, a labourer has to work for 90 days in the previous year to be qualified for registration. For this, the labourer needs  a certificate from the employer. "The problem is this certificate. Nobody gives such written document to labourers. So there are number of issues regarding registration," said Milind Ranade, who has been working in the unorganised sector for years.

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Registered labourers are entitled to various schemes of the state and central government. The state labour board sends it's officers for registration on an yearly basis. There are almost 29 schemes for labourers including security for work, insurance, mediclaim, education for their children and also schemes related to financial assistance. But due to lack of registration of labourers, all these schemes remain only on paper.

Maharashtra's labour board has funds worth of Rs 7,482 crore presently, according to the information available on the board's website. However, only Rs 722 crore have been spent till now. The administrative cost amount to Rs 108 crore. What is interesting is that only 5,93,413 labourers are registered with the board currently. This number is not even 1/10th of the estimated numbers of labourers working right now in Maharashtra.

"Why so much gap? Another reason for the failure in registration lies in the nexus between the state government and builders. The huge collection with the labour board has been made possible due to the mandatory 2% cess on cost of construction. Every builder has to deposit it otherwise he won't get Occupational Certificate (OC). But the same builder is also supposed to register his labourers with board, which they rarely do and the state government, too, ignores it. This is why despite huge funds lying with the board, it is not being used for the betterment of labourers," Ranade alleged.

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This lack of data as well as political will to help labourers is creating a number of problems in their lives. They are forced to stay in unhygienic conditions at the construction site which in turn invites a number of deceases including fever. "These labourers and their children are entitled to clean, healthy spaces. But the lack of basic living amenities remains a major hurdle for their development. They and their families are even deprived of basic medical treatments," said Bharati Sharma, a social activist working in labour camps in Mumbai and surrounding area.

The killing of 42 labourers in different incidents has brought this reality to the fore, which show that the mostly neglected and deprived labourers are forced to live without basic human necessities.

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