The Delhi High Court has said it is the need of the hour to complete registration of construction workers, "on war footing" so that succour can be provided to them in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar expressed displeasure with the Delhi government's Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare (BOCWW) Board over the "cumbersome" registration form, lack of assistance from the authority in filling up application forms and no specific timeline for processing the same.
The bench refused to accept the Board's contention that it does not have the wherewithal to provide assistance for filling up the applications by the workers and uploading it, saying it was "their job to facilitate the same, particularly when they have devised such a cumbersome form which is not even bilingual".
"We, therefore, direct that the Board should ensure that sufficient number of desks or windows are provided, where workers could go and get their forms for registration or renewal of registration filled up and uploaded," the bench said and added that Delhi State Legal Services Authority's (DSLSA) assistance can be availed for the purpose.
It said that an affidavit indicating compliance of its directions be filed before the next date of hearing on July 2.
The bench also termed as "completely unacceptable" the Board's stand that it cannot say with certainity when examination of the application forms would be undertaken.
"If this state of affairs is allowed to prevail, the construction workers who are genuinely entitled to register or renew their registration would have to wait endlessly.
"..whereas need of the hour is to complete the process at the earliest on a war footing so that succour could be provided to the construction workers in the wake of the pandemic," the bench said in its order of June 16.
The high court directed the Board that DSLSA's assistance be not confined to uploading of the forms and it should also be involved for verification and for evaluating the eligibility of the applicants.
"As aforesaid, this is necessary to ensure that the Board does not unduly delay the entire exercise of registration or renewal of registration, considering the fact that there is grave urgency at present to register/ renew the registrations..," the high court said.
With regard to renewal of registration, the bench said "there is no justification for prescribing such a detailed and cumbersome form when details and particulars of the registrants would already be available with the Board when the workers had initially registered.
It asked the Board and DSLSA to examine how the renewal form could be simplified.
The directions were issued in a PIL by social activist Sunil Kumar Aledia seeking registration of all construction workers here under the BOCWW Act so that they can get the benefit of the relief package of Rs 5,000 per month being provided to each labourer during the lockdown.
Aledia in his plea, filed through advocate Shiven Varma, has contended that only a small section out of the over 10 lakh workers in the city are registered under the laws regulating their welfare and service conditions and thus, a huge chunk of the labourers are not getting benefits actually meant for them.
He has also contended that despite collection of over Rs 2,000 crore under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act in the names of lakhs of workers, only around 37,127 construction labourers who are registered are getting the benefits.
The petition has claimed that there has been gross under-registration of construction workers in the national capital since 2015.
The petition has further contended that the lockdown has led to work and wages being denied to the labourers and the relief granted by governments, through direct benefit transfers or orders to pay wages, are not available to those not registered.
It has also said that due to lack of responsibility by employers, governments, and concerned departments, these workers have been left to fend for themselves and also deprived of the mandated benefit of crores of funds collected in their names.
The Board had earlier told the court that it had disbursed Rs 19.8 crore to 39,600 workers registered with it as relief package during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It had also said that it has provided old age pension of Rs 3,000 per month to retired construction workers.
However, the relief has been provided only to the workers registered under the BOCWW Act as mandated under the statute and rules framed thereunder, it had said.