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Indifference to Welfare Of Construction Workers

THE Comptroller and Auditor General’s report tabled in the Assembly last week revealed shocking indifference shown by government in utilizing funds collected from builders for welfare of construction workers. Against a fund of Rs 60 crore the labour department used only Rs 47 lakh over the years, that too for administrative purposes! It is also pathetic to note that the department website does not even mention the fund or any scheme under it ! The fund could have been used to provide better housing and toilet facilities for construction workers. The fund was created by levying cess on construction companies for workers welfare. The labour department not only failed to utilize the funds but even incurred a loss of Rs 1.13 crore by poor financial management. The fund collected was deposited in savings which accrued minimal interest, whereas its credit in a fixed deposit account could have enabled the department to earn higher interest, which could have been used for providing better facilities to the workers.
The labour department allowed the fund to remain idle, because no concrete plans were made and implemented. The apathy of the labour department officials could be seen from the fact that the Goa Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, which was reconstituted in 2008, has met only a couple of times. A Workers Welfare Fund was created with the implementation of the provisions of the Building and Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act. The money collected in the fund was to be used to improve the conditions of workers, to provide safety, health and other welfare measures, like marriage gift, maternity benefit, fatal accident relief, disability relief, natural death relief, hospitalisation relief, funeral expenses and pension scheme. Many a worker has met with accident at the construction sites but the CAG report is indicative of the fact that none of them got any benefit despite availability of funds.
While the state has seen high growth in construction sector over the past three decades attracting migrant workers in thousands to meet the ever growing demand for workforce, the workers continue to live a dismal life without any benefits from the funds collected for their welfare. It has been common knowledge that the migrant construction workers are not provided appropriate benefits and facilities by their employers on the plea of high costs involved. It is ironical that often it is the construction workers who have been blamed for the diseases they bring or cause and the filth they generate. Since the labour department has failed to carry out its mandated work for using the Workers Welfare Fund, the government should order a probe to find out which officers of the department were responsible for the indifference and non-utilisation. The CAG report has pointed out that the main hurdle in utilization of the funds lay in the process of enrolling beneficiaries who were not enlisted. One of the reasons for poor enrolment is lack of awareness of the fund and schemes under it. The two deputy commissioners in labour department in either district of the state were tasked with the duty of enrolling beneficiaries and it has to be found out how many people have been enlisted so far and if not, the reasons behind the failure have to be found and those responsible taken to task.
Though the collections continue to be made for the fund, no action plan has been drawn and no schemes have been formulated. Surprisingly, though the labour department implements 17 schemes for the welfare of workers, there is no specific scheme for the welfare of construction workers, despite the fact that a separate fund was created for them. Surprisingly, legislators across political parties appeared to have failed to take note of availability of the funds and the schemes. Though politicians are the first to announce the schemes and also ensure that people in their constituencies get the benefits under them, it is evident from non-utilisation of funds that there were no takers perhaps due to lack of awareness. Perhaps the beneficiaries enlisted are not voters and hence there is not much enthusiasm among the politicians to reach out with the schemes to the people. It is high time that authorities wake up and ensure that all those eligible for benefit under the fund were immediately enlisted so that they could get the benefit and take those who failed to discharge their duties to task. To provide satisfactory facilities and support to migrant construction workers is going to mitigate some of the problems we Goans never tire of blaming upon them.

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