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ACB alleges scam in relief given to Delhi construction workers

A preliminary enquiry by Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Branch(ACB) has contended that “ghost” construction workers were disbursed funds worth hundreds of crores by the labour department of the Delhi government, according to officials aware of the matter.

The officials added that ACB sleuths randomly selected 800 forms (of those submitted by registered workers), and found fake addresses and profiles, and instances of dozens of beneficiaries listing the same address and phone number, and the names of some people who live in other states but have never visited Delhi.

Registered workers in Delhi were paid between 5,000 and 15,000 by the government Delhi Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board (DBOCWWB) during the Covid pandemic for loss of wages. Deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia is the chairperson of the board. The total money disbursed under the scheme was 900 crore, according to the officials cited above.

The Delhi government did not respond to queries seeking comments.

“We checked 800 forms submitted by individuals who had registered as construction workers. There are a total of 1,700,000 workers registered with the labour department. Of the 800, at least 421 people are fake. Even B.Tech and M.Com students were registered as construction workers. Scores of individuals who live Gorakhpur, Sant Kabir Nagar, Muzaffarpur, and Baghmer registered as construction workers and received money in the first two phases of the pandemic, and during the construction ban in 2019-2020 (on the directions of NGT to curb air pollution),” an investigating officer, who asked not to be named, said.

The officer added that at least 44 people had common addresses in Gautam Colony in Narela, 37 had submitted fake addresses in Kapashera, 38 had fake addresses in Burari, and 33 were permanent residences of Gorakhpur and Sant Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. The investigation team found that, in one case, the beneficiary was a senior government school teacher.

“Most people had nothing to do with construction. They own kirana shops, work in factories, as momo sellers, domestic help and are employees of tailoring units. At least 66 applicants had given the same mobile number. In some cases, the bank accounts are also the same. We will now probe how many non-construction workers took the money,” said the ACB official

The state government formed the Delhi Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board in 2002 under a central government legislation — The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1996 — which mandated that every state form the boards to address concerns regarding the safety, health and welfare of workers employed in the construction sector.

An official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that local bodies charge a building cess of 1& during the construction of buildings which have a construction cost of 10 lakh or more, and this cess is used by the board to fund various welfare activities of construction workers, like a one-time maternity payment of 50,000, scholarships for the workers’ children, etc.

Shubhash Bhatnagar of the National Campaign Committee of Construction Labour said since every construction worker cannot afford a mobile phone, in many cases, many people use a single mobile number to apply for registration.

“It is also common for many construction workers to stay together in one building, even though they are not part of a family. A thorough inquiry should be done into the matter,” Bhatnagar said, noting that the Supreme Court in 2018 had directed the boards across the country to conduct a social audit of their functioning.

ACB launched a probe after some labour unions met lieutenant governor VK Saxena and filed a representation and on September 22, 2022, alleging lapses and wrong disbursement by DBOCWWB. The AAP or the Delhi government had not reacted to the development at that time.

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