*We have Rs 1,000 crore for labourers, claims Minister
GUWAHATI: The issue of rehabilitation of the lockdown-affected 'unorganized' labourers in the State created an 'unruly' situation in the State Assembly on Wednesday. The situation led Speaker Hitendranath Goswami to ask Labour Welfare Minister Sanjay Kishan to call a meeting of party leaders to solve the problem.
Amidst the hue and cry, Minister Kishan informed the House, "There's no dearth of funds for the registered labourers. We've Rs 1,000 crore at hand. The problem is with the unorganized labourers who haven't registered themselves with the Labour department. We're now holding district-wise camps for their registration."
The ruckus started during the Question Hour when Congress legislator Kamalakshya Purkayastha raised the issue of the labourers' plight due to the corona-induced lockdown. Purkayastha said, "At a time when unorganized labourers like thelawalas, rickshaw pullers and others have been starving due to the corona-induced lockdown; the government is caught off guard without having any clear-cut mechanism to help them out. How can the labourers maintain the COVID-19 protocols like quarantine? They need to work during the day to make their both ends meet. It's the duty of the government to appoint block-wise facilitators for labourers' registration."
The Minister then said, "We've money. So far, we have paid Rs 2,000 to each of the 2.89 lakh labourers who have registered themselves with us. The more such registration is done, the more money we will extend as financial assistance. The labourers need to register their names under the 'Building and other Construction Workers Act-1996' to avail of government benefits like medical assistance, assistance for funeral and other activities, a monthly stipend after 60 years of age, a one-time educational assistance for their wards, etc. This money comes from the labour cess charged under various construction works."
AIUDF MLA Mamun Imdadul Haque Choudhury then said, "Rs 2,000 can't solve the problems of a family. What we mean is a clear-cut policy for permanent solution to the problem. If the government has Rs 1,000 crore at hand, why doesn't it give the money to the lockdown-affected labourers who have no way out but to starve?"
This led to an unruly situation in the House with the Opposition members raising a hue and cry. During the ruckus, the Minister said, "We can spend money only in accordance with rules. We don't want to follow the Congress government's footsteps that spent Rs 100 crore only for printing publicity materials like leaflets, banners etc. There was an inquiry into this, leading to arrests. During the past ten years only Rs 99 crore was spent for the welfare of organized labourers in the State."
Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia then said, "This is a very important issue, and we want the Minister's reply to be accurate. Already the SITA Report that was tabled in the House has spelt it out in clear terms as to how the lockdown is rendering lakhs of people jobless in the State. Taking that in mind, the Government has to devise a plan to give the affected labourers a succuor."
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary then said, "Labourers who returned and those who are still returning from the other States are being registered by both the Industries as well as the Panchayat & Rural Development (P&RD) departments. We're going to rehabilitate them."