Three years and counting: children of construction workers in Delhi await education aid

ACB probe into issue of ‘ghost workers’ registered with welfare board causing delay: official; sources say agency sitting on corpus of ₹3,800 crore; workers also yet to receive ₹5,000 relief for ban on construction activity

September 26, 2023 12:38 am | Updated 08:22 am IST - New Delhi

Mahesh Sharma, a construction worker in Delhi, showing his labour card.

Mahesh Sharma, a construction worker in Delhi, showing his labour card. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

Thousands of children of construction workers in the city have not received their annual financial assistance for education for the past three academic years, official sources have told The Hindu.

The reason behind this three-year delay is not financial. The Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board (DBOCWWB) is sitting on a corpus of ₹3,800 crore, as per the sources.

The reason behind the delay in disbursing the assistance, ranging from ₹6,000-₹12,000 per year for students from Classes I to XII, is an Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) case about “ghost workers” allegedly being registered with the board, a senior Delhi government official said.

The ACB initiated the case in 2017-18 against multiple officers of the board on the charge that they gave benefits to “fake workers”, causing a loss to the exchequer.

A source said in light of the case, a decision was taken this month not to disburse financial assistance under various welfare schemes without verifying the details of each worker. “A standard operating procedure has been created on how to verify workers for the students’ financial assistance by using school staff, but it is yet to get the final approval,” the source said.

However, workers’ unions blame the delays on the ongoing power tussle between the AAP government and the Centre-appointed Lieutenant-Governor.

“Due to the constant tension between the L-G and the AAP government, no official wants to sign files, fearing that the matter could go to a court or an inquiry could be initiated,” said Sidheshwar Shukla, an employee-representative of the board and vice-president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) (Delhi).

A source at the DBOCWWB said, “Other welfare schemes are also affected. The number of workers who have received benefits through the larger welfare schemes so far in this financial year is less than one-fourth of the number for the corresponding period last year.”

The construction workers have also not received a one-time compensation of ₹5,000 announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after construction works were stopped in November 2022 due to a spike in air pollution, officials confirmed. When asked, a Delhi government spokesperson said, “We are looking into the issue. It will be resolved at the earliest.”

‘Increasing expenses’

At his one-room rented house in south Delhi’s Munirka, Mahesh Sharma, 42, a disabled construction worker, says he has lost count of the times he has visited the area MLA’s office and his children’s school to avail of the financial assistance.

“It is tough to find work these days. With two children in school, the expenses are only increasing. It will be a huge help if the government disburses the amount,” he said.

In 2020-21 and 2021-22, around 1.8 lakh students were supposed to get the assistance. For 2022-23, the list of beneficiaries has not even been processed, say officials.

The board runs 17 welfare schemes and gets its funds through cess collected from construction projects worth over ₹10 lakh.

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