Closely following the Amma canteens of Tamil Nadu and Annapurna Rasoi of Rajasthan, the Gujarat government’s populist decision to provide meal at a highly subsidized rate of Rs 10 to an estimated 50,000 construction workers across the state appears have few takers among social organizations working among them.
Announced in the 2017-18 budget, the state government proposes to hand over the kitchen for providing meal to a charity organization at chosen 88 spots, where construction workers seek jobs every day in the state’s urban areas. In all, it is estimated, it would cost state coffers Rs 70 crore in a year.
Opposing the move, Vipul Pandya, general secretary, Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangathan (BMS), which has branches spread out in all major cities, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said that the workers wanting to have meal would face the “unnecessary hassle standing in queue every day”, which would “hurt their self-respect and dignity.”
Subsidized meal at Amma canteens is said to be a major reason why late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa managed to remain popular in elections. Taking the cue, ruling parties of several states, including West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, introduced a similar scheme.
The letter, written following a meeting of senior activists working among construction workers, says that such a scheme would become an “unnecessary drain on the exchequer of the Gujarat Construction Workers Welfare Board (GCWWB), which is supposed to fund for the scheme.”
“Instead”, the letter insists, “It would be more proper to provide workers with unemployment allowance of Rs 1,200 per month, especially during the monsoon season, when they are jobless, from GCWWB funds.”
“In fact”, states Pandya, “Even today, several charity organizations provide free meal at different spots, hence where is the need to spend money on providing subsidized meal is difficult to understand.”
Pandya says, the decision to hand over money from from GCWWB coffers has “little meaning”, as whatever funds the government body collects as cess for GCWWB from builders is “not utilized for the welfare of the construction workers.”
“The cess is collected at the rate of 1% of Rs 3,000 per square metre of buildup area, and according to our estimate, the GCWWB has already collected Rs 1,600 crore, which is lying unutilized”, says Pandya.
According to Pandya, “It is difficult to understand why the GCWWB continue to collect cess on the basis of a government resolution (GR) of 2006, instead of a 2012 GR, which says that the collection should be 1% of the construction cost involved per square metre.”
“Already”, says Pandya, “The GCWWB has lost an estimated Rs 2,500 crore for failing collect cess under the new formula”, adding, “The GCWWB fund should be collected under the new GR, and it should be utilized in providing interest free loan of up to Rs 2 lakh to buy up equipment used while doing construction work.”
“Also”, says Pandya, “The amount should be utilized in providing a subsidy of Rs 1,60,000 for the construction workers wanting to own a house, whether in city or in rural areas.”
He added, “The amount could also be used for providing pension of Rs 2,000 the construction workers, who cross 55 years of age, because they are unable to get employment in the industry thereafter.”