Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa ordered a probe into a suspected scam in the registration of construction workers and payment of their wages through middlemen in Patiala on Saturday. The minister directed deputy commissioner Varun Roojam to investigate the matter at the earliest.
Dhindsa gave the directions while chairing the meeting of the Patiala district grievance committee on Saturday where he heard complainants who spilled the beans about the well-established nexus between labour officials and agents.
As per norms, the registration of construction workers is done through labour inspectors. Once registered, the workers are eligible for several welfare schemes offered by Punjab Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Board.
The complaint alleges that the Patiala labour inspector is routing all the registrations through retired labour inspector Surinder Singh, who has been charging more than double the rate for registration of workers. Singh has hired his agents in villages who trap ignorant workers to ensure their registration through him.
"Against the prescribed government fee of Rs 145, Suridner Singh charges nearly Rs 400 per worker and even takes 10-15 percent commission to help them claim benefits under various schemes of the workers' welfare board," said one of the complainants, Harmesh Singh from Nabha.
An accredited social health activist (ASHA) worker told HT that those who visit the labour commission's office directly for registration are not properly entertained but are rather harassed by the clerical staff so that they end up at the doors of the middleman having links with officials in the labour department.
Assistant labour commissioner, Jatinder Pal Singh, who recently took charge in Patiala, said he was aware of the issue and he even got a board put up recently, informing the applicants to stop their registration through middlemen. But ignorance of the labourers and connivance of agents and labour officials has been providing an impetus to the nexus.
"As directly by finance minister, I would thoroughly investigate the matter and take appropriate action. We will change the entire clerical staff here if required," the commissioner said.
Sources said shortage of clerical staff is a grave problem in labour department.
The local labour office responsible for registration of workers of various sub-divisions of the district has just three operators.
Registration of construction workers is otherwise a lengthy process that requires verification of identity proof documents of the workers and issuance of red book (identity card of the workers). Therefore, pendency of registrations is a common problem, giving much required ground to the middlemen for thriving with connivance of the officials.
Labour scams not new in Punjab
Earlier this year, following complaints of fraud in the registration of construction workers, the construction workers' welfare board directed Sangrur assistant labour commissioner to file a chargesheet against the erring officials involved in the registration of fake workers to reap benefits under the medical assistance scheme.
Why is registration important?
Registration of construction workers ensures that certain financial and medical benefits are given to labourers working in unorganised sectorThere are several schemes, including ex-gratia provided in the event of death of a registered beneficiary, which ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh
Stipend scheme for the children of registered construction workers given from Class 1 to degree coursesShagun scheme for marriage of two daughters of the registered construction worker
Under Rashtriya Swasth Beema Yojna, a registered beneficiary and four other members of his family (total five persons) can avail indoor treatment upto Rs 50,000 per family, per year