Although 22 years have passed since the enaction of beneficial social security laws for construction workers, the overwhelming majority of them are still not getting the expected benefits.
A survey conducted in mid-April in several colonies of Delhi like Bawana and Shahbad Dairy, where a substantial members of construction workers live, revealed that 90% of construction workers there have not got the expected benefits.
It is also true that those who have got the benefits were extremely joyful but their number is 10 per cent or less. But, what was shocking was that less that 2% (perhaps even less) of the workers have got pension, which is the most important benefit.
The number of children who have got scholarships is a little higher but an overwhelming majority are excluded. In case of other benefits such as monetary help during marriages, the beneficiaries are even more negligible. However, what concerns the workers most is the non-availability of the much desired pension for workers who cannot toil any more.
In 1996, two important legislation were passed by the Parliament for construction workers—the Building and Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996. This legislation came only after a 12 years long sustained campaign by the National Campaign Committee for Construction Labour (NCC-CL) in which various central trade unions campaigned unitedly.
Among other things, this legislation provides for a cess to be collected on all new construction activity at the rate of one percent of the total budget of the construction being taken up. This amount has to be deposited with the construction workers' welfare board for many-sided welfare activities of construction workers including pension, assistance in case of accident, housing loan, insurance scheme, maternity benefits, education of children etc. This legislation applies to every building or other construction work which employs ten or more workers. It covers all Central and State government establishments.
Leelawati, an elderly women, says, "Both my husband and I get ₹3,300 each as construction worker pension. As I have a few ailments, this pension is a great help.”
Unfortunately, just about 2 per cent of the workers get it even in colonies where efforts to mobilise construction workers have been in progress.
What is distressing is that workers like Anjaar Ahmed and Naguran have made multiple trips to offices to get their pension, but they have not been successful. A few of them say that they have made a number of trips to the concerned offices to deposit their documents and to find out when their pensions will start. In the process they have spent a lot of money and time but still they have not got any official assurance as to when their pensions would begin.
Around ₹40,000 crores have been collected at the national level and around ₹2,500 crores in Delhi alone. In addition there is interest on the amount too. So many workers could have benefited but the number of actual beneficiaries is still very small
This is not just the situation in a few colonies of construction workers. Even the Supreme Court has expressed serious concerns about the funds meant for construction workers not reaching them. Unfortunately even the directives of the Supreme Court to ensure a life of dignity to construction workers have not yet improved the situation on ground.
Subhash Bhatnagar, a coordinator of the National Campaign Committee for construction workers, says, "Around ₹40,000 crores have been collected at the national level and around ₹2,500 crores in Delhi alone. In addition there is interest on the amount too. So many workers could have benefited but the number of actual beneficiaries is still very small."
Umesh Singh, an elderly activist involved in the grassroot mobilisation of workers for welfare legislation, says, "Today I am very disappointed man when I see that genuine persons and organisations are being pushed aside, while dubious organisation use corrupt methods to get fake names registered as beneficiaries."
During recent visits to colonies where a substantial number of construction workers live, this writer met several elderly persons who were unable to work any longer and the pension could have reduced their distress.
The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with various social movements and initiatives