“Just because money is there, it cannot be thrown at people.” Less than a week after Delhi’s Labour Minister told Hindustan Times just why the Rs 300 crore meant for Delhi's 8 lakh construction workers was not being utilised, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit stepped in to address the neglect.
On May 20 itself, the day HT published the story “How Not to Look after the Poor,” Dikshit cracked down on the Labour department headed by Minister Mangat Ram Singhal.
And on May 23, after a meeting held with various departments, including Health and Education and attended by the Chief Secretary, the government announced the fund will be immediately deployed for:
Education scholarships to 1 lakh children of construction workers, which will be routed through government schools from the academic year beginning this July.
Till the HT report, the fund headed by Singhal had extended the measure to just 50 students.
20 mobile dispensaries to be set up within a month to cater to construction workers.
Extending financial assistance to families of construction workers, who are facing serious illnesses.
HT had reported the account of a construction worker Thakurdas (34), who was deep in debt in a bid to finance his injured son's operations. He had registered with the fund a year ago, but was receiving no benefits.
Dikshit has also asked the Construction Workers Welfare Board headed by Singhal to probe other aspects of labour welfare, and draft schemes as required in conjunction with other government arms.
HT had reported how Singhal had little clue of his board's work, and hadn't called a meeting of this special body since July 2008, despite bi-monthly meetings being mandatory.
Just allocating the funds, however, may not be enough, as Sanjay Kumar of SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association), which helps organise construction workers in the city pointed out.
“More workers must be registered with the fund as a first measure, and the board must be labour-friendly,” said Kumar.
“Existing measures like insurance coverage are languishing because the department has not published necessary forms.”
The Labour department was not available for comment.
The Rs 300 crore tax has been collected under the 1996 Building and Other Construction Workers Act, and reflects the fast-paced construction Delhi is witnessing.
The tax was to improve working conditions and provide workers, mostly landless rural migrants, a broad social security net, from insurance to educational benefits to pension.
But the Delhi government has registered just 18,000 workers under the law, and even they are receiving no benefits.