Delhi Construction workers charged more than Rs 500 to register to get COVID-19 financial aid

There is confusion and frustration among at least 4 lakh construction workers in Delhi who are being charged about Rs 300 to Rs 1,000 to register on the online portal set up by the Delhi government

Delhi Construction workers charged more than Rs 500 to register to get COVID-19 financial aid
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Ashlin Mathew

There is confusion and frustration among at least 4 lakh construction workers in Delhi who have to shell about Rs 300 to Rs 1,000 during the lockdown to register on the online portal set up by the Delhi government. They have to sign up if they have to be eligible for the financial assistance announced by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The workers are being fleeced by cyber-café owners as most of them do not own smart phones and they are not lettered. To add to their woes, the website’s server is always down and is in English.

This is even after the Delhi High Court had ordered on Thursday, May 21, that the government cannot deprive benefits to over 5 lakh construction workers just because they were unable to renew their annual registration. There has been silence from the government on this front.

The Delhi labour minister Gopal Rai had announced on May 11 that to help the unregistered construction workers get registered for payment, online registration would begin from May 15 to May 25. Verification of these workers would be done after May 25.

To be eligible for the Rs 5,000 being given, the workers have been trying to register themselves on the Construction Workers Welfare website (www.edistrict.delhigovt.nic.in). Many have not been able to, mostly because the website’s server is down and it is in English. The few who have, did with the help of those managing cyber cafés in the city. It’s important to note here that the Delhi government has not permitted the opening of cyber cafes even in the third phase of the lockdown.

A worker has to give their Aadhaar details, Aadhaar details of their family members, photographs of family and self, both current and permanent address with proof, details of their workplace, information of the contractor and bank account and other such details.

“First we have to get the 14-page form. Even though it is a free form, we have to pay at least Rs 50 to get it. Then we have to request someone to fill it for us as it is in English. After that it has to be uploaded online. Some of the internet centres have opened, though they keep the shutters down. What was the Delhi government thinking when they asked us to register online? If I were a literate person, would I work as a plumber? Has the government forgotten that we have had no work for two months? I had to pay Rs 400 to get registered,” said Rahul, who lives in a slum cluster in south-eastern Delhi. A friend of his had to pay Rs 1,000 to register himself.

But not everyone has been able to register on the website. Shankar, who works as a carpenter, tried for a week and has now given up. “Can you do anything? The process for registering is complicated. After the phone number is submitted, an OTP number is sent to the mobile phone. The website shows that my phone number is wrong. I tried for a week. They show that every time. How am I expected to proceed? Is this a joke for the government? If we have to fill a form, why can’t it be submitted at an office or why can’t they set up counters, where we they help us fill and submit the form. They asked us to fill forms online when everything is shut down,” asks Shankar, who lives in Madanpur Khadar, a slum cluster in south-eastern Delhi.

He said whenever they call the Delhi labour minister Rai’s office, they are asked to provide details to prove that they are poor, have not got ration or can’t register online. “We send them videos and then they go silent. Is poverty our fault? Do they think we are lying?” asked Shankar. Both Shankar and Rahul refused to share photographs of people queuing in front of these internet cafes as they did not want them to be shut down.

The Delhi government’s insistence on the construction workers registering online to be eligible for their benefits raises questions because neither do many of these construction workers own smart phones, nor are they digital literates. This enables many of them to be cheated by cyber-café owners. Worse still is that the website has been inaccessible for two days now. Without any information from the Delhi government on this matter, the workers have been left in a lurch.

“We have been trying to help them upload forms. But it is not possible to do so for more than 4 lakh workers. We have reached out to the labour commissioner, but there hasn’t been any response so far. The registration will close on May 25 and the on the weekends no official communication is possible. Even in case of those who have registered, they have been asked to appear in the office in July for verification of documents. The workers need the money now,” said Jay Prakash, who is a joint secretary with Indian Federation of Trade Union (IFTU).

Kejriwal had announced soon after the lockdown began on March 24 that the government would give financial assistance to the registered workers through the labour welfare board.

Just after the lockdown began on March 24, the construction workers were asked to register on another site, which has nowbeen shut down. On that site 1.70 lakh workers had registered, but they haven’t got the benefits that Kejriwal promised. “The Delhi government has paid Rs 5,000 to only 40,000 workers. That is not even a fraction of the workers in the Capital. We have been requesting the government to send officers to verify the workers at construction sites. Most of them are still there,” said Animesh, president of IFTU-Delhi.

The Delhi High Court, on its part, directed the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board to renew the membership of all workers in its order on May 21. The authorities have been asked to send messages in Hindi to the mobile numbers of the workers informing them about the renewal procedures. The High Court had ordered them to complete these procedures in four days, which would mean by May 25.

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