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Building workers: 20 of 877 Gujarat deaths compensated since 2008; Rs 150 crore of Rs 1,900 crore spent on welfare

By Our Representative
Even as Gujarat government has begun paying, following a Supreme Court order, Rs 10 lakh compensation each for the death of 170 workers because of suffocation in manholes, thanks to a long-drawn-out battle by people's organizations, facts have come to light suggesting that it is showing high degree of indifference in this regard for the accidental death of 877 construction workers.
A Bandkam Majur Sangh (BMS)-sponsored seminar, in which construction workers' representatives, government officials, and executives from top building construction companies, such as L&T and IL&FS, has been told that for just 20 out of 877 deaths since 2008 compensation has been paid.
Quoting from a Right to Information (RTI) reply, BMS' Vipul Pandya told the seminar, "According to the rule, the state government should pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to those who are are registered as workers with the State Construction Workers' Welfare Board."
The workers were not being paid compensation, it was revealed, despite the fact that the welfare board has a huge Rs 1,900 crore at its disposal, collected at the rate of Rs 30 per square metre from the construction sector for the welfare of workers. Collected since 2006, so far the state government, ironically, has so far spent a paltry Rs 150 crore for the workers' welfare.
If health facilities are claimed to have been offered to construction workers for free, some of the 27 schemes at the disposal of the welfare board have simply not taken off. For instance, Some one of the schemes is Rs 1,000 pension to workers after 60 years of age, for which they must be found to have registered continuously for the last three years. A senior official at the seminar admitted, "Not one application has come..."
Total number of deaths of construction workers
since 2008: 877
"As for those who are are not registered, they should be paid Rs 1.5 lakh", Pandya said. Pointing out that only 30% of the construction workers out of 12 lakh are registered, Pandya said, "None of the those who died and aren't registered have been paid any compensation." According to the rule, each worker must renew registration every year, otherwise her or his registration would lapse."
Identifying "major problems" while registering construction workers, majority of whom are tribal migrants from Gujarat as well as places as far away as Bihar and West Bengal, senior board official IG Soni triggered hornet's nest, saying that "fake registration" has been taking place to take advantage of its 27 welfare schemes, one reason why one has to be "extra-careful."
Giving the example of registration of migrants who work in Surat's diamond industry, Soni said, "We were in the process of registering about 1,500 of them. And suddenly we found that there were 150 Rohingiyas among them, hence stopped registration." Asked how did he come to know that they were Rohingiyas, Soni said, "They didn't know either Gujarati or Hindi. They did not have any aadhaar card either."
Asked whether he thought that some of those present in the seminar but did not have aadhaar could be called Rohingiyas, a worked up Soni said, "Did I say that? I am not accusing anyone here." Amidst uproar, a migrant workers' representative called Soni's statement "highly objectionable and directed against a particular community." In Gujarat -- unlike other states -- aadhaar is a must for registration with the board.
Govt official Soni
According to a Government of India estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingiyas in India. Victims of ethnic violence in Burma, Rohingiyas are mostly Muslims. Majority of them, living in sub-human conditions, have crossed over from Burma and reached Bangladesh by boat. Some of them reached India. Victims of humanitarian crisis, the Government of India wants them to be deported to Bangladesh.
Giving more details, Pandya said, last year 80 persons died while working on construction sites. Majority of them, 28, were from Ahmedabad. "These construction workers are underpaid. Even those working in Ahmedabad metro work for 12 to 15 hours to earn full day's wage, which is a safety issue. Most of them die because of falling from a height."
Pointing out that these migrants have "no space to live, no toilets, no water, no creche where women workers can put their children while going on work", Pandya said, "About 40% of those who die are tribal migrants." A top consultant for the metro, FM Dahodwala, responsible for safety issues, admitted, the government's special purpose vehicle set up for constructing metro in Ahmedabad, MEGA, has, in all, 1,500 workers, but of these "only 10% are registered with the welfare board."

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