In a significant move, the state governments have disbursed a substantial amount of Rs 49.57 billion cash assistance till date to nearly 20 million registered construction workers across the country during the nationwide lockdown.
The aid was extended in response to an issued by the Union Ministry of Labour & Employment on March 24, the day the lockdown for containment of the COVID-19 pandemic was enforced.
About 17.5 million transactions were done directly into the bank accounts of the workers under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme. Apart from cash benefits ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 6,000 per worker during the lockdown, some of the states also provided food and rations.
Classified under the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW), they are the most vulnerable segment of the unorganised sector workers in India. A substantial chunk of them comprises migrant labourers working in different states far away from their native places. Despite playing a significant role in nation-building they often find themselves on the society’s margins.
The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, was enacted to regulate the employment and conditions of service of these workers and to provide for their safety, health and welfare. The Act along with the Cess Act has played a significant role in coming to their rescue by providing them subsistence during the tough times of the pandemic. Under the Act, the state governments through their state welfare boards are mandated to frame and implement welfare schemes for construction workers. The fund comprises the cess of 1 per cent of construction costs, which is levied and collected by the state governments, and remitted to the welfare fund.
The amount to be granted to construction workers for their subsistence was to be decided by the respective state governments. The March 24 advisory was issued to help mitigate the financial crisis faced by construction workers. A similar letter was also written by the secretary of labour & employment to the chief secretaries of all the states and was vigorously followed through video conferencing from time to time.
There are some BOCW, who are still out of the range due to reasons such as their migratory nature, changing work-sites, and low levels of literacy and awareness. In order to address the issue, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has planned to launch a mission mode project to fast-track the registration of the left-out workers, portability of benefits, universalisation of social security schemes on health insurance through Pradhaan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (PM-JAY ), life & disability cover through Pradhaan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojna (PMJJBY) and Pradhaan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojna (PMSBY), life-long pension during old age through Pradhaan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan Yojna (PM-SYM) and provision of transit accommodations in large cities.