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Accepted Contribution:

Workers Subsidising Welfare: Lessons from the redeployment of construction workers’ welfare funds in India  

Author:

Sruthi Herbert (University of Edinburgh)

Contribution:

I highlight the specific disenfranchisement of unorganised sector workers from full citizenship despite the constitutional guarantee of equality. I show that the lack of accountability in fiscal and administrative practices negatively impact the citizenship experience of workers in India.

Why would you like to speak in this workshop?:

I would like to bring to attention, some key issues around the deployment of the Building and Construction Workers (BOCW) welfare funds for pandemic relief in India.

Pre-pandemic, funds running into billions of Indian rupees lay unspent with special-purpose social welfare boards such as the BOCW welfare boards in India. The BOCW boards are Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) meant to address the specific vulnerabilities of building and construction workers through the BOCW Act 1996.

Right after the COVID-19-induced lockdown in India in March 2020, the central government instructed the states to mobilise the BOCW funds for pandemic relief. A few states also used BOCW funds for vaccination drives. In addition to emergency cash and food distribution, several states used these funds for vaccination of the beneficiaries. Approximately ₹310 billion of the ₹1.7 trillion mobilised towards pandemic relief were reallocated from the BOCW boards. In doing so, the state appears benevolent, providing vaccinations to not just registered, but also unregistered construction workers and their families. However, a closer look clarifies that falling back on the unspent funds lying with the BOCW boards effectively translates to the vulnerable workers subsidising the state’s public health expenditure.

Through interviews with registered workers and activists, bureaucrats and administrators working with the BOCW boards in India, I examine the working of the BOCW boards in select Indian states. I argue that the specific vulnerabilities of unorganised sector workers, specifically the migrant building and construction workers relegate them to second-class citizenship.

Workshop W15
Post-Pandemic Mobilisation and Management of Social Welfare Funds: Implications for Equity and Citizenship