Upset over reports of “precarious living and working conditions” of migrant workers engaged by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in its projects in tough terrains, the Jharkhand government has accused the central entity of failing to comply with mutually agreed terms for employing labourers from the state.
In a strongly-worded letter sent to BRO chief on July 16, the government has sought details of the workforce hired from the state, their monthly fixed wages and the number of labourers who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“The Jharkhand government has been informed about thousands of migrant workers working as casual paid labourers (CPLs) with BRO since March 2021.
“We have received multiple reports from Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand about the precarious living and working conditions faced by our workers during the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in April-May 2021, including the death of 11 CPLs in Uttarakhand in avalanche storm in April 2021,” Labour, Employment, Training and Skill Development secretary Prawin Kumar Toppo said in the letter to BRO.
The state government has expressed concern over “inadequate” payment and living conditions of the labourers and the role of middlemen in hiring them.
“This comes as a surprise to us considering the mutually agreed upon terms of engagement of CLPs between both the parties last year,” Toppo said in the letter to BRO Director General Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhary.
The Jharkhand government official has accused the central entity of “failing to comply with mutually agreed terms for employing migrant workers from the state”.
BRO officials could not be reached for comments.
As per the terms of reference signed by BRO and the Jharkhand government on June 13, 2020, for the engagement of paid labourers from 2021-22 onwards, it was agreed that BRO would apply for registration as an establishment in accordance with existing rules of the state.
They also decided that an MoU would be signed between both the parties following an approval of the Defence ministry for inter-state migration of workmen, it said.
BRO is under the defence ministry.
The central entity had also agreed to comply with all the provisions of Jharkhand’s Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act-1979 for inducting 11,815 workers as CLP through the mutually agreed framework, the letter claimed.
“However, it is surprising that migrant workers from Dumka are being taken for BRO projects through mates (middlemen), which is in violation of the mutually agreed terms, and without the knowledge of the state government,” Toppo stated.
He has also asked BRO for the total number of migrant workers it has engaged so far, the condition under which they were working, details of those who had died between March 2020 and June 30 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the nature of compensation paid to them.
“By when does BRO intend to apply as an ‘Employing Establishment’ under Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act 1979/Occupational Safety Health and Working Conditions Code- 2020 with the state government for yearly induction of migrant workers? “When does BRO intend to share a draft of the MoU for discussion with the state government and sign? How many migrant workers have died since March last year working on projects, and what the compensation paid? What are the current number of workers engaged in BRO projects, their status and entitlements provided,” the official said.
Claiming that the state’s migrant labourers working in high-altitude defence projects are “exploited” by BRO, Chief Minister Hemant Soren has reiterated that he would take up the matter with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, as the situation has not changed despite repeated communications.
The state government has written a number of letters to BRO, accusing it of “gross violation” of Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, framed to protect labourers whose services are requisitioned outside their home states, by involving middlemen and touts to hire workers.
The state labour department secretary said the government is fully committed to uphold the “value and dignity of our workers who serve the nation in the remote border regions by building roads, bridges and infrastructure”.
Last month in an interview to PTI, Soren had said that once the state gets over the COVID-19 crisis, he would personally hold meetings with chief ministers and administrators of various states and Union territories and pitch for a robust mechanism to check workers’ exploitation.
After the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year, around 8.50 lakh migrant workers, out of the 10.45 lakh who got themselves registered while being stranded in different parts of the country, had returned to the state between March 2020 and August 2020.
The Supreme Court had on May 24 said that the process of registration of migrant workers is “very slow” and it must be expedited so that benefits of various schemes can be extended to them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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