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Author:Himanshu Upadhyaya (Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India)
This presentation looks at the struggle on realising the potential of a specific welfare fund meant for construction workers in India. It looks at a welfare cess introduced in August 1996 and unpacks why a substantial part of that fund remains unspent and what happened during Covid19 pandemic.
Why would you like to speak in this workshop?:
I have been researching the phenomenon of unspent funds and the efforts of workers' organisation to seek accountability from below. I would like to speak about what the performance audit on the functioning of the fund management authority, namely state and UT level Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Boards have found, how have those audit findings been responded to by the audited entity and what course correction, if any, was attempted.
I would also like to present how the unspent accumulated balance lying in this special purpose fund was mobilised since March 2020, when the India's Ministry of Labour and Employment issued an advisory to state governments to tap into this fund to disburse to construction workers emergency cash assistance during the pandemic through Direct Benefit Transfer mode.
I would also present how the state governments tapped into this fund to meet all sorts of emergency pandemic expenditure, be it the efforts to mobilise food assistance to construction workers (which ideally should have got financed by enhanced budgetary allocations to Food and Civil Supplies Dept) in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, or the efforts to carry out special vaccination drives for construction workers in Punjab, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc.
Thus, my overall thrust would be to explicate how fiscal bureaucracy looks at this non-lapsable special purpose fund, as if it was a low hanging fruit and was an untied all weather fund. In short, the mobilisation of this fund resulted in India's Finance Minister not face huge fiscal deficit.
Post-Pandemic Mobilisation and Management of Social Welfare Funds: Implications for Equity and Citizenship