Speed up verification of labourers, says Delhi HC

In just over a month, the Delhi construction workers welfare board has received over 29,000 fresh applications and 18,249 requests for renewal of membership, of which 2,876 forms could be taken up for consideration, according to official records.

The numbers, submitted by the Delhi government to the Delhi High Court in an ongoing case, indicate how thousands of workers are unable to benefit from welfare measures mandated under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.

“The disclosed figures paint a grim picture… The pendency of these applications means that a large workforce of building workers, who may be entitled to receive the ex-gratia amount disbursed by the Board, are being denied the said amounts in these trying times,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar observed on July 14.

Applications for fresh registrations and renewals were received from May 15 to June 29, after a reduction in the number of workers registered with the board between 2015 and 2020 came under the HC’s scanner following a PIL by activist Sunil Kumar Aledia.

With the number of active workers registered with the board in Delhi coming down from over 5 lakh to around 40,000, lakhs could not avail the lockdown assistance of Rs 5,000 each disbursed in April and May from the cess fund. According to the government’s submission, 29,613 applications were received for fresh registrations. For renewals, 12,051 forms were received manually and 6,198 forms online.

Most workers dropped out of the safety net as they were unable to follow the cumbersome process of annual renewal. On the directions of the court, the board has sent out SMSes to 46,029 workers who were previously registered but fell off the list.

However, with a severe manpower shortage affecting the board, which sits on a corpus of over Rs 2,500 crore, only 1,191 fresh applications could be taken up for consideration and verification so far; for renewals, 1,676 applications have been considered.

The court has suggested that experienced advocates provided by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) from its panel be utilised to undertake verification of the new application forms, and expedite the process of renewal of registration.

“It appears to us that the backlog of renewal applications may be cleared by 100-odd advocates that the DSLSA is willing to provide, within about two weeks or so… the expenditure that the Board may incur would not be very high, compared to its corpus, and also compared to the amount that it has already expended/ disbursed and would be disbursing… to construction workers in the current financial year,” said the court.

Other significant suggestions made by the court include the need to do away with the mandatory requirement for workers to present their current address proof. It said it was impractical as construction workers “are nomadic, and they move from site to site for their work and also move their residences to a place close to their construction site”.
The court has listed the matter for July 30, directing that summary of the reasons for each rejection be placed before it.

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