An order to remove disorder

Labourers resting during lunch break at the Central Vista Redevelopment Project site in Delhi.   | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

A recent order of the Delhi High Court could see all construction workers who have, and will be working on the ‘Central Vista Redevelopment Project’ and ‘Pragati Maidan Redevelopment Project’, reap the benefits of the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund.

The High Court, on March 23, ordered the Secretary (Labour) of the Delhi government to convene a meeting on April 13 to “amicably resolve all the issues” relating to registration and renewal of construction workers under the welfare scheme. A Bench of Justice Manmohan and Justice Asha Menon also took note that the registration form to be filled in by the workmen is complicated and cumbersome.

Sluggish implementation

It has been around 25 years since the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 came into force.

However, the implementation of this social benefit scheme on the ground remains sluggish, primarily on the issue of registration and renewal of construction workers, especially migrants who face various vulnerabilities during the ongoing pandemic.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court had ordered that “all construction workers should be given identity cards and should be registered in terms of Section 12 of the BOCW Act”. The top court had then lamented: “Symbolic justice — there is nothing more to offer to several millions of construction workers in the unorganised sector — not social justice, not economic justice.”

The apex court further lashed out at the reluctance of the States to conform to the laws. “No State government and no Union Territory Administration (UTA) seems willing to fully adhere to and abide by [or is perhaps even capable of fully adhering to and abiding by] two laws solemnly enacted by Parliament, namely, the BOCW Act and the Building and Other ConstructionWorkers‘ Welfare Cess Act, 1996 (the Cess Act),” the top court had then said.

Total apathy

Last year, the Delhi High Court also has passed several directions to ensure timely registration and renewal of the construction workers under the BOCW Act. Social worker and activist Sunil Kumar Aledia, on whose petition the Delhi High Court passed the directions, said that most of the Capital’s construction labourers and other workers entitled to benefits under the BPCW Act are currently residing in various labour camps, construction sites, homeless shelter homes, emergency shelter homes and on streets. “These labourers spend their blood and sweat for meagre daily wages for the development of Delhi, India and, of course, for the profits of construction companies, building owners and builders,” Mr. Aledia said.

But they get little rewards, even those that they deserve. “However, due to the lack of responsibility taken by employers, governments and departments alike, these workers are not just left to fend for themselves but are also deprived of the mandated benefits of crores of funds collected in their name,” he added.

Mr. Aledia has taken it upon himself to organise a special camp for facilitating the registration of construction workers at Labour Colony Sarai Kale Khan and Maharani Bagh Sub Station in the Capital. During a camp organised on January 26 this year, he interacted with hundreds of construction workers working at two mega projects — the ‘Central Vista Redevelopment Project’ and the “Pragati Maidan Redevelopment Project’. “I did not come across even one worker who was registered under the BOCW Act,” Mr. Aledia said.

Voluntary registration

According to Central Public Works Department officials, the onus is on workers to get registered with the State Building and Other Construction Workers Board under the BOCW Act, 1996. A senior official said registration camps were being organised, but it was a voluntary exercise. The official added that other welfare measures for the workers at Parliament site, including COVID-19 vaccination camps for those over 45 years of age were being carried out.

The official added that a registration camp would be held on April 13, which also happens to be the date of the court-ordered meeting to be convened by the Delhi Secretary-cum-Labour Commissioner. The workers had been given a place to stay at a camp in Sarai Kale Khan, besides food and medical facilities as well as the transport to and fro from the site, according to a source involved with the project. The agency carrying out the Parliament project, Tata Projects Ltd., declined to comment on the matter through a spokesperson.

Subhash Bhatnagar, coordinator of the National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Workers, said the issue was “in a fluid state” as the BOCW Act had been replaced by the Code on Social Security 2020, but the rules to implement the Code had not been notified.

Under the BOCW Act, employers are supposed to pay 1% of the construction cost to the State for the BOCW Board to use for welfare activities of registered workers. “Under the BOCW Act, the registration is voluntary but the new Code will make it the responsibility of the employer to have the workers registered. Since they will be making huge payments, they should get the workers registered. Government construction sites should at least ensure that all workers are registered,” he said.

The benefits

In Delhi, according to the Delhi BOCW Board’s website, 5,52,843 workers were registered as of March 31, 2020. All building workers 18 to 60 years of age who have been engaged in construction for at least 90 days in the preceding 12 months are eligible to register. A registered construction worker is eligible for medical assistance up to ₹10,000, in case of hospitalisation for five or more days due to accident or any disease. The worker also gets financial assistance for marriage of self and for children (up to two children). For marriage of female registered member, a sum of ₹51,000 is provided while a male registered member is given ₹35,000.

Pension, ex-gratia

A registered worker is also eligible for a pension benefit of ₹3,000 per month after completion of 60 years. Apart from that, 50% of the pension received by the pensioner or ₹1500, whichever is higher on the death of a pensioner, will be given to the surviving spouse. There is also a provision for disability pension ₹3,000 per month to permanently disabled member due to paralysis, leprosy, T.B and accidents etc. Also exists an ex-gratia payment of ₹1 lakh in case of permanent disability. The rule also provides for maternity benefits of ₹30,000 to registered women members and wives of male members (up to two children).

If a construction worker dies due to an accident, during the course of employment, the nominees/dependents are entitled to get ₹2 lakh as a death benefit. In case of normal death of the worker, the nominees/dependents of the members are entitled to ₹1 lakh. Mr. Bhatnagar said the number of registered workers had gone down during the pandemic and that only 40,000 workers in Delhi received the payments given to 2 crore construction workers in the country in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 15, 2021 7:49:24 AM |

Next Story