Labourers work at a construction site amid dense fog, on the outskirts of Jammu. Photo: PTI
Only about one-third of construction workers in India got cash transfer in their bank accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), prompting the central government to plan a mission-mode project to register those left out.
About 18 million construction workers got cash transfer benefits to cope up with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, out of an estimated 50 million such workers in India, according to the data compiled by the Union labour and employment ministry last month.
Apart from Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, where none of the estimated 6.7 million construction workers got cash transfer benefits, the coverage of the construction workers was the lowest in Delhi, where only about 5 per cent of the estimated workers received cash under the PMGKY, followed by Kerala (15 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (22 per cent), among major states.
In March, Union Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar had directed state governments to transfer cash into the bank accounts of construction workers from the unutilised welfare funds earmarked for them. This later on became a part of the first set of relief packages announced by the government for Covid-19, known as PMGKY.
“The Union labour and employment ministry is planning to undertaken a mission mode project to cover all eligible construction workers and provide a social security umbrella to them,” a senior government official said, requesting anonymity.
The social security benefits planned for construction workers would include subsistence allowance, such as unemployment benefits, for use during pandemic.
The states charge cess to construction firms, which is equivalent to one per cent of the construction cost. The cess fund, maintained by the states on their own, is used for several welfare measures, under the Building and Other Construction Workers Act of 1996. In India, construction workers belong to the unorganised sector but account for the highest share of non-farm jobs after manufacturing. Under the law, construction workers are entitled to a welfare measures if they are registered with the authorities and their firms make continuous contribution on their behalf every year.
“Lack of awareness among construction workers about their entitlement towards welfare measures is one of the main reasons that they are often left out. We will advise the states to start the process of easy registration and renewal of construction workers,” the government official explained.
Some of the steps would include giving workers a facility to self-register or go for renewal of their registration – through an online or missed call facility and self-declaration by submitting Aadhaar and bank account details (without the need to submit employers’ data). The government is also planning to offer cash incentives for registration or renewal of construction workers.
The government will also push the States for better utilisation of the cess funds meant for construction workers. The States have spent around Rs 5,000 crore towards cash transfer to such workers during the pandemic. The cess fund to the tune of Rs 38,000 crore is unutilised.
The Central government will recommend the States to provide health insurance, under the Aayushman Bharat programme, life and disability cover, under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, and life-long pension by paying towards premium costs for construction workers. It will further ask the States to provide subsistence allowance during unemployment, illness, epidemics and natural calamities.
Till November 2019, there were 39 million construction workers registered to receive benefits but when the States started to discharge cash benefits to the workers during COVID-19 pandemic, it found around 26 million eligible workers. Officials said that the registration of one-third of construction workers was pending for renewal.
“The issue was different in the case of Delhi government as it had found a large number of construction workers who were wrongly registered with them. It took a decision to keep the original registration list aside and start the process afresh to go for 100 per cent verification. This is why in their case the eligible construction workers are really low,” the government official cited above said.
States such as Bihar and Chhattisgarh showed reluctance towards cash transfer to construction workers as they either didn’t maintain proper records or informed the Central government about cash transfers to workers under other schemes launched by them. “They said cash transfer to construction workers could lead to duplication,” the official added.