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Gujarat construction workers' "welfare"? Rs 909 crore lying 'idle' since 2006, just nine of 600 paid death compensation

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has admitted that the state has so far failed to make any progress towards providing basic welfare facilities to an estimated 20 lakh construction workers, despite the fact that the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996, which was activated in the state in 2006. Addressing a well-attended workshop on construction workers, a senior state official admitted, “huge cess fund” has been collected by the state government for the welfare of the construction workers, but all of it has remained unused.
Gujarat Building & Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (GBOCWWB) chairman Dr Anil Patel told the participants that a major reason why the cess – Rs 909 crore – remains unutilized with the board is there was “failure” to go ahead with the plans to register construction workers with the board because of “technical reasons.” He claimed, now the problem has been “identified” and the campaign to register the construction workers has finally begun.
The admission came even as Vipul Pandya of Bhandkam Mazdur Sangathan (BMS) revealed, quoting official figures, that of the Rs 909 crore collected as cess and lying with the GBOCWWB for construction workers’ welfare since 2006, just about Rs 9 crore has been spent. This year, he added, another Rs 346 crore would be added to the fund.
“One of the major components of the welfare fund is compensation against accidental death amounting to Rs 2 lakh. As against 600 accidental deaths that have taken place across Gujarat since 2008, just nine have so far been paid the compensation. We believe the amount is quite small, and it should be increased to Rs 4 lakh”, he said.
Attended by different stakeholders -- trade union and NGO representatives, builder’ and construction association representatives, and the state government’s labour department officials -- an analysis of the data at the workshop said, 46 per cent of the deaths the construction workers fell down from the top of the site, 19 per cent because wall collapsed or the earth caved in, 17 per cent because of an object fell on the worker, and seven per cent because of electric shock.
Patel, who called himself “new to the subject”, saying is more an “intern” trying to understand the construction workers’ problems, said, the accidents at construction sites were four to five times those of other industrial accidents. However, he sought to blame it on workers: “Construction workers working at sites of such renowned builders like Larsen & Toubro or Bakeri are known to do give safety instruments. But I have noticed that many of them rarely wear them”.
Source RTI. Incomplete figures as several cities
did not provide any information
Participants said, officials blame failure to pay compensation on workers not being registered with the GBOCWWB. Blaming this on a highly indifferent government bureaucracy, they added, the law to collect cess came into force in 2006, and till 2008, just about 600 workers were registered. Thereafter, the trade unions were given the powers to register workers. 
“As a result, 40,000 forms were filled up, of which 20,000 were registered. Then, suddenly, the powers from the trade unions were taken away, and the registration process came to a standstill. The workers registered were deregistered, as it is valid for just three years”, they pointed out.
“The process of registering workers again began in December 2014. According to our estimate, 70,000 have filled up necessary forms out of a total of 20 lakh construction workers. Of these nearly 30 per cent have so far been registered”, Pandya said.
Others added, the problem has become complicated because of “frequent changes brought about by the Gujarat government in its forms. “If a worker fills up a self-certified form as a construction worker as required, the labour office often doesn’t accept it saying it is not in proper format. Where would the workers – 70 per cent of whom are from outside Gujarat and the rest are mainly state adivasis – go in such a situation?”
According to the law, once the worker is registered, apart from the benefit of Rs 2 lakh on accidental death, she or he is entitled to several benefits on getting a Red Book, including cheap ration from the fair price shop, free medical aid, money to educate children, and maternity benefit of Rs 3,000 to women.
Jayanthi Ravi, state labour commissioner, who wound up the workshop, said the format of the form has again being changed to an electronic card with a bar code, which NGOs and trade unionists objected, saying, the Red Book would be “much better” as here the workers knew what all benefits they have received and are going to receive.

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