Covid-hit India needs Rs 8 lakh crore package to support lower income groups: Report

India Today | May 06, 2021

A report has suggested that the government needs to roll out a relief package of Rs 8 lakh crore to contain hardships faced by lower-income groups due to the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government will need to roll out a relief package worth Rs 8 lakh crore to contain hardships being faced by lower-income groups due to the economic impact of COVID-19, a report by Azim Premji University said on Wednesday.

The report is based on inputs from Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, Azim Premji Foundation, and many other civil society organisations.

As per the calculations based on CMIE-CPHS data, the report said, around 23 crore people are estimated to have fallen below the national minimum wage poverty line due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and around 1.5 crore workers remain jobless by the end of 2020, the report titled State of the Work 2021 said.

The study found that nearly half of formal salaried workers moved into informal work, either as self-employed (30 per cent), casual wage (10 per cent) or informal salaried (9 per cent) workers, between late 2019 and late 2020 and there was a decline in their income level as well.

In April and May, the poorest 20 per cent of households lost their entire income and the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes, the report said.

To bring relief for the people suffering hardships of COVID-19 impact, the Azim Premji University report on Wednesday recommended measures that would cost the government an additional expenditure of around Rs 8 lakh crore.

“The measures that we have proposed will bring the spending by the government of India to 4.5 per cent of overall GDP between this year and last or about Rs 8 lakh crore. We think that is not even internationally comparable to what other countries have done, but really what India needs to do,” Azim Premji University associate professor of economics Amit Basole said while releasing the report.

According to the report, around 30 per cent of people in some states did not get ration as per Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, which needs to be investigated.

“Something like 30 per cent of PDS priority ration cardholder, unfortunately, did not receive the extra grains, at least in these two states (Karnataka and Rajasthan) and this number of 30 per cent we find broadly similar also in few other states that we have done as part of our other COVID livelihood survey,” Basole said.

According to the report, the public distribution system has a wider reach than Jan Dhan Yojana, and free rations under the PDS should be extended beyond June, at least till the end of 2021. In Karnataka and Rajasthan, out of those having women-owned Jan Dhan accounts, 60 per cent received one or more transfers, around 30 per cent did not receive any transfers and 10 per cent did not know about the fund status in their account, it added.

The university report has recommended a cash transfer of Rs 5,000 for three months to as many vulnerable households as can be reached with the existing digital infrastructure, including but not limited to Jan Dhan accounts.

It has suggested expansion of MGNREGA entitlement to 150 days and revising programme wages upwards to state minimum wages.

This needs to expand the programme budget to at least Rs 1.75 lakh crore, according to the report.

It has also recommended launching a pilot urban employment programme in the worst-hit districts with a focus on women workers, increasing the central contribution in old-age pensions to at least Rs 500, a COVID hardship allowance to 25 lakh Anganwadi and ASHA workers of Rs 30,000 and automatically enrolling all MGNREGA workers who do construction work as registered workers under the building and other construction workers (BoCW) Act.

“The survey has been supported crucially by various organisations including Azim Premji Foundation and Azim Premji Philanthropic initiatives, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy, as well as many civil society organisations, have contributed in bringing the information that we have been able to collect,” Basole said.

Odisha diverts DMF funds to urban areas as mining-affected communities suffer

India Mongabay | May 05, 2021
(i)Odisha is one of the mineral-rich states and has billions of rupees collected under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds which according to the law are to be used for the welfare of the mining-affected communities.
(ii)Instead, the DMF funds are either being used for works that have nothing to do with the welfare of mining-affected communities like the creation of a stadium or diverted for urban areas.
(iii)Experts note that Odisha has more than Rs. 110 billion under the DMF funds but they are yet to find their way to the mining-affected communities.

During the latest budget Session of Odisha’s Legislative Assembly, the Odisha government’s Cabinet in March 2021 approved several proposals but the one that raised eyebrows was to use the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds, meant for the mining-affected community in the Sundergarh district, for construction of an international stadium in Rourkela town.

The proposed international stadium has been envisioned to host the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023. This misuse of the DMF funds is not a one-off incident, but there have been many similar trends over the years. In 2017, in the Jharsuguda district, the district administration sanctioned works related to the power supply to the Jharsuguda airport with an investment of more than Rs. 20 crore (Rs. 200 million) squeezed from the DMF funds.

In another mining district of Keonjhar, the district administration in 2019-20 sanctioned works for a handball stadium, and invested around Rs 500,000 for a patient facilitation centre for Cuttack-based medical college which is around 200 kilometres away from Keonjhar.

In January 2020, the administration of the Sundergarh district bought 25 cars with the DMF funds for them to be used as patrolling vans by the police in Rourkela city, a non-mining affected area. Earlier, even integrated traffic management was sponsored with the DMF funds. In the same district, the DMF funds were also used to construct the boundary walls of the Circuit House.

The list of instances where the DMF funds were used for works that had nothing to do with the welfare of the mining-affected communities goes on. This, experts warn, is worrisome because this comes at a time when the state’s own people living in the mining-affected areas are crying for attention and seeking help for basic amenities in their areas after living in poor and vulnerable conditions for decades.

This is important because according to the Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi, Odisha has seen the highest collection of Rs. 11,984 crore (RS. 119.84 billion) as DMF collections from the miners operating in the state since the inception of funds in 2015.

The Odisha government recently told the state Assembly that the DMF collections in the state are rising in the state. While it was Rs. 395.44 crore (Rs. 3.95 billion) in 2015-2019, in 2019-20 the total annual collections stood at Rs. 3,079.20 crore (Rs. 30.79 billion).

Though Odisha has a significant amount of the DMF funds what is probably lacking is the provision of transparency related to their use. For instance, Rule 16 of the Odisha DMF Rules talks about sharing the annual report of the DMF trust on its website but hardly any annual reports have been uploaded online for several years.

Odisha’s DMF Rules mandates the usage of 60 percent of the funds in priority areas while 40 percent of them could be used in non-priority areas. The non-priority areas included investments in physical infrastructure, irrigation, energy and watershed development, afforestation and others.

Queries sent to P.K. Jena, who is the Odisha government’s secretary for the planning and convergence department, regarding the diversion of DMF funds for other purposes remained unanswered.

Pranav Sachdeva, a lawyer with the Supreme Court who has handled many mining cases in the apex court emphasised that Odisha and many states have attempted to dilute the very concept of the DMF funds by diverting it to areas other than the mining-affected areas.

“As mining firms grow, the local community impacted by mining does not get any benefit from the money collected … in fact the local environment is impacted too. But the governments often diverts these important resources away from the vulnerable community. They try to use the DMF funds for works where ideally budgetary allocations should have been used. These funds were planned for the upliftment of the affected community for their health, education, livelihood and others and many portions land in urban areas,” he said.

The pollution mess in the mining-affected areas of Odisha
According to the 2011 Census, about 1.62 million people (50 percent) in the Sundergarh district belong to Scheduled Tribes and many live in rural areas. This area is adjacent to the Chhattisgarh border and known for coal mining and other minerals for decades. But what is consistently ignored is the plight of the communities impacted by mining.

For instance, Naresh Meher, a resident of Ratanpur village in Gopalpur panchayat in Sundergarh district, said that people in his village are living in pathetic conditions due to mining taking place about 10 kilometres away. He said that the levels of air pollution, water pollution and sound pollution have taken a huge toll on his village.

“Around 3,000 trucks cross our village every day. Thick levels of dust often engulf our standing crops while polluted water is discharged from the handpumps. Several of the citizens here live with skin diseases, cancer and other diseases triggered by mining activities,” said Meher, who himself is tuberculosis (TB) patient.

But this is not the end of their poor fate as his village is now listed to be taken away for mining.

Social activist Suru Mishra from Sundergarh said that in the Hemgiri block in the district, a stretch of 25 kilometres of road connects the mining centres of Sundergarh with Chhattisgarh and passes through several villages but even then the roads are in extremely bad shape.

“You cannot walk on that road. Only trucks and heavy vehicles run on that road. There are very big potholes and the whole stretch gets waterlogged making it very difficult for the local communities to commute or for kids to use that to go to schools,” Mishra told Mongabay-India.

Both, Meher and Mishra, said that these areas and many other mining-affected areas need government attention to improve their standards of lives. They also said that the Hemgiri Community Health Centre (CHC) is still deprived of a digital X-ray facility and ultrasound facility and other medical facilities but the government has spent several portions of the DMF funds in boosting the District Headquarter Hospital (DHH), which is in an urban area.

The provision of DMF funds – to be collected from miners – were introduced in January 2015 by the government of India through an amendment in the country’s mining laws for all districts affected by mining-related operations.

In the Talcher region of the Angul district, the villagers living in areas close to the coal mining and coal washery units are left to suffer from the discharge of untreated water directly into the farmlands of the village. Similarly, in the Bansapal and Joda blocks of the Keonjhar district, the villagers are facing the crisis of polluted groundwater, a result of mining activities. This has also forced many women to walk for miles every day to fetch drinking water.

How Odisha’s DMF funds are being diverted for other purposes?
Experts working on the issue of mining in Odisha and other states claim that the DMF funds are now easily diverted for other priority areas and urban areas despite it being illegal and mining-affected communities crying for help.

Sankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said, “In districts like Keonjhar, the salaries of doctors are now being paid through the DMF funds which should ideally be coming from the state’s budgetary allocations.”

“Collectors find the DMF funds sometimes hard to dispense and thus divert it for numerous urban-centric works. But they are not annual budget funds, they can be accumulated and do not lapse. They can be used when needed. The need is to make priority-based plans to aid the mining-affected people,” he said.

Ramesh Agarwal, a leading Indian environmentalist based in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh said, “The rules of DMF have been framed in such a way that the district collector gets the power to sanction the DMF funds with the approval of the local DMF committee. In many states, we have seen diversion of the funds to other areas which is not going to affect the mining hit communities,”

A study conducted by the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the usage of DMF funds in different mining districts of Odisha found that despite lower social and health indicators the allocation of DMF funds on the issue of livelihood and other areas had not been much, say for example in Sundergarh district.

“In Sundergarh, one of Odisha’s top mining districts, a negligible Rs. 3 crore (Rs. 30 million) has been provided for child development out of the district’s Rs. 745 crore (Rs. 7.45 billion) sanctions. This is at a time when under five Mortality Rate in rural areas of the district is as high as 67, and nearly 50 percent of the children below this age are victims of stunted growth,” the report said.

Srestha Banerjee, Programme Head, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), who played a key role in producing the CSE report, said the constitution of the DMF committee in the districts is one of the main problems.

“The DMF Committee in the districts have been formed in such a way that the local politicians including the parliamentarians and legislators exert more power in the decision making on the spending of the DMF funds in their areas. The mining laws permit the administration to use part of the DMF funds for administration works, but when the mining hit communities need attention for their upliftment and diversion of these funds to urban areas and for other similar works sounds less logical,” Banerjee told Mongabay-India.

She said that livelihood and income generation of the rural poor population living in the mining-affected areas need to get a priority under the DMF fund allocations. She also demanded that the DMF funds should be spent based on priority areas rather than in a haphazard manner as it is happening presently in many mining districts of Odisha.

Karnataka government to import 500 oxygen concentrators from China

The Hindu | May 04, 2021

As part of its efforts to address the medical oxygen crisis in the State, the government has planned to import 500 oxygen concentrators from Shanghai, China, Minister for Mines and Geology and Kalaburagi in-charge Murugesh Nirani told presspersons here on Tuesday before leaving for Bengaluru to take part in a Cabinet meeting.

“I have told my contacts in Shanghai to procure 500 oxygen concentrators and send them to Bengaluru by a special flight. They are expected to arrive within four days. If they arrive as expected, I am going to send 100 to Kalaburagi, which is among the districts facing a serious oxygen crunch,” he said.

The price of the concentrators of 5 kg and 10 kg capacity, he added, range from ₹35,000 to ₹1.38 lakh. The government would purchase them at competitive prices.

“I have talked to oxygen producers operating from JSW Steel in Ballari to explore the possibility of augmenting liquid medical oxygen supply to Kalaburagi. They have responded positively and expressed their readiness to supply as much oxygen as we want. We are putting in efforts to deploy a dedicated cryogenic oxygen tanker in service for supplying the lifesaving gas to Kalaburagi. I am expecting the tanker to start transporting oxygen to Kalaburagi in a day or two,” he said.

To a question, the Minister said there was no dearth of funds for handling the pandemic. “We can even use DMF [District Mineral Foundation] funds for purchasing medical oxygen, cylinders, drugs, and other essentials required for treating COVID-19 patients,” he said.

When asked about the Opposition’s demand for the Chief Minister’s resignation in the backdrop of the Chamarajanagar tragedy, he said resignation would not solve the problem. “We should not do politics at the time of a health crisis. The Opposition leaders should, by giving appropriate suggestions, join hands with the government in tackling the pandemic,” he said.

May Day 2021: What Has (Not) Changed Since the Pandemic Ravaged Livelihoods of Workers

The Wire | K.R. Shyam Sundar | May 01, 2021
Despite the government passing several laws, hurting the hard-earned labour rights over centuries, workers are staring at an uncertain phase during which neither old labour laws nor the new codes are effectively relevant.

This is the second May Day during COVID-19 and hence as dark as it was in 2020, if not darker. For several reason, it is darker in many senses for the working class. Let us briefly review what happened post-May Day 2020.

The COVID-19 2020 period witnessed several legislations both at the state and at the central levels hurting the hard-earned labour rights over centuries. Capitalising on the extraordinary situation created by the pandemic, several state governments hurriedly, and even unwisely, passed government orders extending the maximum hours of work in a day from eight to 12, and in a week from 48 to 60 hours. In Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the judiciary struck them down due to their illegality. On the other hand, some states dared to enter where angels feared to tread by making sweeping changes in all or some major labour laws like Factories Act, 1948, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, among others.

At the same time, the central government enacted three Codes – Industrial Relations Code (IRC), Occupational Safety and Health and Working Conditions Code (OSHWCC) and Social Security Code (SSC). The Codes afforded considerable flexibility to employers and contractors by exempting more establishments from regulations concerning standing orders, retrenchment and closure, safety and health, contract labour welfare, etc. The Codes provided some benefits to the working-class like universal minimum wage, trade union recognition, social security for gig and platform workers, wider definition of migrant workers, etc.

Seen holistically, the corpus of legislation provides some benefits which due to lack of effective implementation machinery and of will to implement on the part of the government mean little or even nothing; on the other hand, the employer-friendly clauses are easy to implement as they significantly reduce the role of the government in the labour market owing to increased non-coverage of establishments and workers. This is the irony of the labour laws which is often missed out by commentators. Laws deregulate and thereby cause state retrenchment.

This brings us to the issue of governance of labour market. Labour market governance majorly comprises two aspects: administration of labour laws and collection of labour statistics.

The first year of COVID-19 has so vividly and so woefully brought to life the complete absence of labour market governance. Virtually there was no record of inter-state migrant workers and what happened to them during this period of the pandemic. Even the Supreme Court wondered in 2017 that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) did not know where Rs 20,000 crore collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Cess Act, 1996, meant for spending on construction workers’ welfare had gone! Earlier in 2015, the apex court expressed displeasure over the non-utilisation of the cess fund of Rs 26,000 crore.

The unorganised workers did not receive the mandated smart registration card under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (UNSSA). Even as the labour minister unjustifiably claimed that the OSHWCC provides better occupational safety and health protection to workers, the lack of valid and reliable statistics on industrial accidents is striking. In the meanwhile, industrial accidents have been occurring at frequent intervals in various parts of India, especially New Delhi.

What has [not] Changed?

Legislative vacuum

The four labour codes have been hurriedly passed but not notified till now. I have provided a comprehensive critique of these Codes in my book, Impact of COVID-19, Reforms and Poor Governance on Labour Rights in India (Synergy Books India, 2021).

The central government has hastily used the escape clause in the Wage Code and notified the provisions related to the constitution of the Minimum Wages Advisory Board in December 2020; however, nothing has happened yet. The industry bodies have been reportedly lobbying with the government for changes in the definition of ‘wages’ since the new definition will likely see an increased outgo in social security. Economic slowdown and COVID-19’s virulent spread has impacted businesses and trade considerably and hence the non-implementation of the new Codes, especially the Wage Code, benefits the industry.

The central government fixed April 1, 2021 as the date for the implementation of the four Codes at a stretch. However, as on April 1, 2021, many state governments have not framed the rules under the Codes, leading to a delay in their implementation. Now this has created a “legal void” which in many ways affect both industry and workers adversely. Minimum wage rates are yet to be revised based on new criteria. Social security for the gig and platform economy workers cannot be implemented. The inclusive definition of migrant workers including voluntary migrant workers along with contracted migrant workers cannot be implemented. The list is long.

The “implementing authorities” are justifiably confused as to how to make the rules under the new Codes. Neither the Centre has helped their cause nor the state governments have sought the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s technical assistance in this regard –reflective of the government’s neo-unilateralism. Given the multiple and competing commitments that the governments face during the second wave of COVID-19, one does not see the implementation of the new Codes in the near future.

The employers and workers are staring at an uncertain interregnum during which neither old labour laws nor the new Codes are effectively relevant. This is perhaps the first of its kind in the legislative history of India that the social partners and even the administering agencies are confused and uncertain.

Labour market governance deficits

During the current COVID-19 period (2021), we are witnessing the second wave of reverse migration of workers who once bitten are twice shy. Despite some state governments like Maharashtra and New Delhi having appealed to the migrant workers to stay back, thousands of them have gone back to their villages.

The first period of COVID-19 exposed the utter collapse of the labour administrative system. I have dealt with the labour market governance deficits in detail in my book mentioned above.

Here are a few points on this issue that are also mentioned with evidence in the book:

The existing unemployment insurance scheme is extremely inadequate, and during 2007-17, just about 10,000 workers claimed unemployment allowance under the ESI (Employees’ State Insurance) scheme
Several state governments did not even disburse a single rupee from the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) cess fund even as the migrant-cum-construction workers were facing terrible hardships;
The state governments were poor performers in implementing the BOCW Act, 1996 despite admonitions by the Supreme Court;
The state governments, the employers and even the trade unions have been guilty of non-provision of correct, timely and reliable statistics; the labour statistical system has collapsed beyond repair and there does not exist a comprehensive and reliable labour statistical system;
The industrial disputes settlement machinery was grossly inadequate to deal with the magnitude of industrial conflicts and the dispute settlement processes suffer from inordinate delays;
The labour enforcement machinery has been considerably diluted which reflected in poor implementation of laws as evidenced by steeply declining number of inspections, prosecutions, etc.
Given the cruel and entirely unforgivable failure on the part of the government in implementing the laws concerning migrant, construction and unorganised workers, one would have thought that the governments would have sprung to rectify the huge deficits. Did they? The delay and in a significant sense the complete failure to do so is appalling.

The central government has proposed five pan-India surveys on migrant workers, domestic workers, employment generated by professionals, employment generated in transport sector and quarterly establishment-based employment survey in February 2021 – nearly a year after the first exodus of migrant workers in 2020. The government is expected to release the data on migrant workers by November 2021.

Given the magnitude of migrant workers and the dynamic nature of their work, it is doubtful whether the government would accomplish what it promises. Without a credible database, it would be difficult even for an unusually benevolent and sensitive government to reach the benefits to the targeted workers.

Even in the new dispensation, there is no plan to collect data on the service sector on a comprehensive basis and that on gig and platform economy workers. The question here is: is there a national registry of these workers? The answer is a BIG NO. The government is playing with “guesstimates” and how credible are their promises for social security cover for these workers in the absence of a credible database?

We do not have credible statistics on the newly registered construction workers in India by states. Several state governments including Delhi have announced registration drives for construction workers, but we still do not know the actual live registrations of more than 55 million construction workers who accounted for 12.14% of total employment in India during 2018-19.

While the SSC does not provide for the provision of registration cards, which went largely unnoticed, since the old law, the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, is prevalent, one does not know whether any constructive move has been launched for registering these workers. The silver lining in this data mess is the officially claimed significant coverage – 86% of the beneficiaries (69 crore) under the National Food Security Act in 32 states and Union Territories – under the One Nation and One Ration Card (ONOR).

The Union Budget 2021 did not provide much comfort to the millions of informal workers. It merely reiterated the ill-formed provisions in the labour codes. The high-frequency unemployment rates produced by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has been higher than 6.5% and throughout April 2021. The absence of macro-level unemployment assistance/insurance scheme, especially during high unemployment-prone COVID-19 times is hugely disturbing. The government has persisted with the tough conditions-laced unemployment insurance scheme offered to workers registered under the ESI scheme.

The SSC does not provide for unemployment assistance/insurance scheme even though it included them in the definition of social security. The MNREGS often acts as a proxied unemployment assistance programme, and hence, generally when unemployment rates spike there is corresponding spikes in the demand for jobs under this scheme, as is the case in April 2021 when the demand for jobs under the scheme increased by 89%.

Given this grim reality, the fact that the budgetary allocation for this scheme for the current fiscal is 34% less than the revised allocation for it for 2020-21 is disturbing.

Absence of any form of dialogue

Enough has been said and written on the absence of and contempt for social dialogue in India even though the government has ratified the ILO Convention, C.144, Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976. The governments have to realise that concrete and useful relief measures cannot be framed and delivered without the aid of trade unions and other workers’ organisations. Hence, there is an urgent need for the government to activate consultation with trade unions not only for amending the defective labour codes, but also frame policies and relief measures to tackle the increasingly menacing COVID-19 this year. Trade unions and workers’ organisations can help in registration of informal workers of various kinds which by itself will be a humungous achievement for workers in India.

There is also a need for a federal dialogue, and a revival of the historically established body, the Labour Ministers’ Conference. This is essential to frame coordinated and non-duplicating measures and also enable the state governments to frame the rules under the labour codes.

If the monolithic government in China could consult the ILO while framing and reforming its labour laws, what prevents the democratic government in India from consulting the ILO is difficult to fathom. ILO has expertise which if accessed would only contribute to better lawmaking and more efficient labour market governance. Not doing so must be attributed to its unholy marriage with “neo-unilaterlism”.

Need for contemporaneous May Day charter, 2021

Thus, the working class has to be prepared to brace another “bad year” or even years in near future as it fights two adversities – COVID-19 and the neo-liberal flexible labour policy regime. Then, May Day 2021 should strengthen its resolve to fight both. It should shelve its 12-points charter of demands and make ‘Lives and livelihoods matter’ as its slogan. The specific contemporary and urgent demands include:

Amendment of labour codes to retain and improve on the existing labour rights
Immediate implementation of the labour laws relating to unorganised sector workers, including migrant, domestic, construction and new economy workers
issue smart ID cards to all these workers, involving trade unions and other workers’ organisations, and initiate a registration campaign for them
Establish a comprehensive labour statistics system in consonance with international labour statisticians’ recommendations
Declare minimum wages and occupational safety and health as fundamental rights
Declare COVID-19 as a national emergency
Ensure adequate labour administrative and judicial bodies for speedy delivery of industrial justice
Universalise social protection

Significantly, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has demanded occupational safety and health to be included as a fundamental human right by the ILO at the global level and this should resonate in India as well. Trade unions must leverage international organisations like ILO and ITUC to strengthen its campaign to usher in decent work and also more crucially to tackle the COVID-19-induced crisis. The four-pillar approach advocated by ILO must be at the centre of policy lobbying by trade unions. Industry could join as it stands to benefit from these campaigns as in these tough times, the interests of both converge.

HC asks Delhi govt to provide medical assistance to construction workers infected with COVID-19

The Economic Times | April 22, 2021

The Delhi High Court Thursday directed the AAP government to provide medical assistance to the construction workers who got infected by COVID-19.

The high court directed the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, which comes under the Delhi government, to implement its direction of providing medical assistance and not to involve in any complicated procedure which would render the order infructuous.

“The counsel has suggested and we find merit in it that if any construction worker is found COVID-19 positive, he should be provided medical assistance on production of RT-PCR report,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said.

The bench was hearing an application seeking to be impleaded as a party to a petition of advocate Rakesh Malhotra related to COVID-19 testings and infrastructure, which was revived by the high court itself on April 19, in view of surge in coronavirus cases.

The application by National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour, represented through advocates Shyel Trehan and Chirayu Jain, sought direction to the Delhi government and the Board to frame expeditious procedure for medical relief under The Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act for building workers and their dependants who get infected by COVID-19.

The counsel said that Section 22(1)(f) of the BOCW Act and Rule 280 of Delhi BOCW Rules provide for medical assistance to be paid in case a building worker or their dependent is affected by major ailment and the financial assistance shall be Rs 2,000 for the first five days and Rs 200 each for remaining days, subject to maximum of Rs 10,000.

The high court had on April 19 said that the Centre and AAP government had miserably failed to think about migrant workers during the 2020 lockdown and lessons were required to be learnt from it as daily wagers were again going to face the grim reality with the imposition of fresh six-day lockdown in the national capital in the wake of second wave of COVID-19.

The high court had said as the Delhi government has announced a six-day lockdown from the night of April 19 to April 26 morning, the reports showed that migrant workers are again going back to their native places from here.

The bench had directed the Delhi government to arrange funds for providing food and other essential items to daily wagers and if need arises, withdraw the amount from the corpus under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act.

It had added that the Delhi government shall utilise the services of contractors who used to prepare mid-day meals in schools which are closed now.

The high court, on its own, has revived the disposed of petition filed by Malhotra, noting that the virus has raised its “ugly head” once again and the pandemic is raging with much greater intensity and “it is evident that the healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse”.

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