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Gujarat officials: Under Modi, govt "did nothing" for construction workers' welfare; 7 of 731 deaths compensated

By Our Representative
In a sharp admission, officials of the Gujarat government have told an NGO-sponsored workshop in Ahmedabad that during Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister, the state officialdom did “virtually nothing” in addressing the plight of the construction workers. The workshop was organized on the occasion of the International Workers Memorial Day, which is observed on April 28.
Organized by Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangathan (BMS), a voluntary organization working among construction workers, who are mainly migrants from the tribal areas, senior officials of the state’s main agency responsible for their welfare, Gujarat Building and Other Construction Workers’ Board, said the board remained on paper for nearly a decade.
“Only after I took over as board chairman in November 2014 that things began moving”, declared board chairman Dr Anil Patel, a BJP leader, adding, “Not only has the board become fully functional, but it has implemented a large number of schemes. There is a full-time member-secretary and staff.”
“We have launched massive campaigns to register construction workers so that they could benefit from different government schemes. Recently it launched mobile medical check-up programme at different working sites through the Dhanvantary Aarogya Rath, inaugurated by chief minister Anandiben Patel”, Patel said.
Referring to the Building and Other Construction Workers Act (BOCW), 1996, a senior official of the board, HS Patel said, “While the state government moved to implement the Act in 2003 by coming up with its rules, till 2014, the board was virtually on paper. There was, of course, a board chairman, but he had no staff. There was nobody to see whether the Act was being implemented.”
The workshop was told by BMS’ Vipul Pandya that data obtained from the right to information (RTI) Act suggest that as many as 731 deaths of workers at construction sites have taken place, yet, because of the strange rules that only registered construction workers could get compensation, “just about seven of them could avail of it.”
The board chairman said, while the state agency he heads was doing all it could to ensure that the workers got all types of compensation and benefits they are entitled to, “Our hands are tied. Everything has to be done within the framework of the law. It is quite another thing that we have tried to simplify the interpretation of the law by making it simple.”
BMS activist Pandya agreed that, after Dr Patel took over, the process of registration, which was virtually at a standstill, has picked up in a big way. “Today, out of 11.26 lakh construction workers in Gujarat, a National Sample Survey (NSS) figure, 2.15 lakh of them have been registered, which is 19 per cent of the total.”
The figures provided for other states show that Madhya Pradesh’s 85 per cent, West Bengal’s 100 per cent, Tamil Nadu’s 60 per cent, Uttar Pradesh’s 30 per cent, Kerala’s 77 per cent, Andhra Pradesh’s 51 per cent, Odisha’s 63 per cent, Karnataka’s 67 per cent, Punjab’s 60 per cent, Bihar’s 27 per cent, Haryana’s 39 per cent, and Jharkhand’s 26 per cent workers have been registered to get benefits under the Act.
Pandya said, “Huge sums Rs 1236.58 crore have been collected as welfare cess under the Act. “In the last financial year, Gujarat government had allotted Rs.346 crore to the board for implementation of various social security and welfare schemes. However, it spent only Rs 12.58 crore. It suggests that there is a huge gap between the workers’ enrolment and the amount received by them as compensation.”
“Despite efforts by the board, less than two per cent of the welfare funds have been been utilized due to lack of awareness and willingness at all levels”, he alleged, adding, “The construction industry worldwide is known as an accident prone industry. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally, 17 per cent of all work related fatalities happen in the construction sector.”

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