Following the direction by the Punjab and Haryana high court, the Punjab government has woken up to cover all labourers and workers in the unorganised sector across the state under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY).
The state labour department has issued instructions in this regard, but the officials concerned have been facing great challenges to collect details of over 50 lakh workers including street vendors, domestic servants, construction and MNREGA workers, rickshaw-pullers, rag-pickers, mine workers, sanitation workers, autorickshaw and taxi drivers in the state.
The other problem is of funds. The assurance cover per worker under the yojana will cost Rs 750 per worker and it requires a whopping amount.
"Though, the Union government will bear 75% expenses, yet the cash-starved state government will face problems in spending about `
100 crore annually. However, the cost of Rs 30 per identity card will be borne by the beneficiary,"said an official of the Punjab labour department on the condition of not disclosing his name.
Talking to the Hindustan Times, director in the Punjab labour department HS Nanda said, "Yes, we are working to cover about 50 lakh unorganised workers under the health assurance plan. This will ensure free treatment up to Rs 50,000 of every worker in government hospitals of the state."
About the survey to collect details, the director said, "Though, we have already registered 2.90 lakh construction workers in the state, yet it will be a tough task to gather details of about 50 lakh workers in the unorganised sector and have told all deputy commissioners to take help of suvidha centres in collecting the data."
About the funds, he said, "For construction workers, there is no dearth of funds, but covering the other about 47 lakh workers is a challenge."
"It appears that so far very little work has been done under the scheme and negligible benefits have been given to the beneficiaries for whom the aforesaid scheme was launched in 2007,"the HC has observed in the interim order on February 27, hearing the PIL filed by an NGO, the Centre for Social Change and Equity (CSCE).
Vijay Walia of the CSCE said, "The number of unorganised workers has increased manifold, as the government did not collect details to provide benefits during the past five years, now following the court order, the government has a gigantic task to cover 50 lakh beneficiaries under the bima yojana."
"However, the court decision has come as a relief for unorganised workers. Though the Union government will pay 75% of the amount, yet the state government was hesitating in paying the remaining 25% for the past several years,"he added.
On the next hearing on April 9, the court has also told the Punjab Building and Construction Welfare Board to supply information on how much labour cess has been collected till date under the 1996 Act and how much amount has been spent till date, besides providing details of spending of the cess amount on various schemes separately, including the RSBY.