Goa activists allege scam in scheme meant for construction workers, demand probe

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Activists in Goa have alleged a scam in the registration of beneficiaries under the Goa Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Scheme, and demanded an inquiry into how people who are clearly not construction labourers have registered their names to receive benefits under the scheme.

According to a complaint filed before the Panaji Police as well as before the Commissioner of Labour and Employment, a group of seven activists has alleged that at least a few of the around 15,000-odd beneficiaries who received funds under the scheme, were in fact people associated with political parties. They said that these people are elected representatives at the village level and have businesses not connected with construction labour.

“Among these there are many panches and sarpanches who have registered. For now we have one name of one Mohini Tari who was a former sarpanch. We have heard that there are others as well who are candidates of political parties at the district panchayat elections,” Kashinath Shetye, who filed the complaint along with six others, told mediapersons.

The money under the scheme is meant for labourers affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Tari approached the labour commissioner to return the money claiming that it was wrongfully credited to her. But activists claim that about a dozen other people have been identified as being wrongful recepients of the money meant for labourers.

The police are yet to register an FIR in connection with the case.

There are around 15,491 labourers registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Fund that is maintained by the Goa Labour Welfare Board.

A total of Rs 5.63 crore was released to the beneficiaries back in March this year as a one time grant under the scheme that was meant to help construction workers tide over the lockdown. Each beneficiary under the scheme was granted Rs 6,000.

“We are demanding that this be checked and the money should be returned. And it shouldn’t end there because they have falsified affidavits claiming that they are laborers. There should be action against them. I don’t know how they are registered,” Shetye alleged.

Under the scheme beneficiaries have to submit a certificate by a labour contractor stating that they have spent at least 90 days in a year working at a construction site in order to continue to receive benefits under the scheme.

The activists claim that they do not know the total number of bogus beneficiaries registered under the scheme but said that an inquiry into the matter would reveal the true extent of the scam.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, when asked to comment on the alleged bogus beneficiaries, said that the matter needed to be probed at the level of the Labour Commissioner. “Let him look into it. Why should I say anything. These beneficiaries have been added over the last many years,” Sawant said.

What piqued the interest of the activists was when, back in April, Sawant read out a list of beneficiaries of the scheme to make a point that most of them were Goan. Sawant was facing criticism that the Goa government was going out of its way to help migrant labourers while neglecting locals affected by the pandemic.

Realising the distress in the construction labour sector, the central government had issued directives to all states to release funds for Building and Construction cess for beneficiaries under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.

Accordingly, each registered worker received Rs 6,000 in their bank accounts.

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