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The Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Scheme: Welfare Measures and Challenges on Ground

In modern India, rapid urbanization is primarily propelled by the construction sector, which includes the construction of infrastructure, amenities, residential, and commercial complexes. This sector operates through intricate subcontracting relationships and employs a substantial informal and unorganized workforce, particularly consisting of migrant workers. More than eight million construction workers in India endure precarious daily conditions, including uncertain job security, inadequate safety measures, and a lack of care mechanisms, exposing them to exploitation and constant risks to their well-being. For their welfare, the BOCW Act came into place. The Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) scheme was established for the welfare of workers. However, even today, eligible and migrant workers face numerous challenges in accessing these benefits. This blog delves into those challenges.

A paradigm shift occurred during the 41st Labour Ministers Conference in May 1995. Recognizing the urgent need to address challenges faced by construction workers, a consensus emerged which led to the enactment of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 1995. This marked a crucial step towards regulating employment conditions, enhancing safety standards, and improving the welfare of construction workers nationwide.

The Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) scheme was not designed with the welfare of migrant workers in mind. However, recognizing that construction workers largely consist of inter-state migrant labourers, it became crucial to address this intersectionality. In 2018, the Supreme Court mandated enhancements to the BOCW scheme, emphasising the importance of raising awareness about the scheme among migrant workers. This mandate also enabled the extension of welfare benefits to migrant construction workers and emphasised coordination between source and destination states for better implementation.

What is the BOCW card?

The Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) card and act provide construction workers access to a range of welfare benefits. Through the BOCW card, workers can apply for and receive various social security benefits, including medical assistance, maternity benefits, accident cover, pension, educational assistance for their children, support for family members in case of death, group insurance, loans, funeral assistance, and marriage assistance for their children.

Who is eligible for the BOCW card?

Any construction laborer aged between eighteen and sixty, who has worked in building or other construction activities for at least ninety days in the past twelve months, is eligible for registration as a beneficiary of the BOCW Welfare Fund under this Act.

The job roles that fall under construction work are –  cutters, masons, painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, welders, laborers, and operators of heavy machinery. Additional roles include well diggers, roofers, blacksmiths, pump operators, and those involved in tasks like mixing, packing, desilting, and operating equipment. Workers engage in various construction tasks such as road repairs, tunnel work, marble cutting, rock breaking, and earthwork. Workers involved in construction projects like dams, roads, and buildings, along with specialized tasks like pandal construction, sewerage work, electrical installations, and fire-fighting system setups are also eligible. Further roles include installing and repairing cooling/heating systems, lifts, escalators, security equipment, iron/metal structures, water conservation structures, interior work, solar panels, modular units, and recreational facilities. Fabrication and installation of signage, road equipment, and construction of public park, walking track, landscape, etc are also listed within the job roles.

What are the documents required for registration? :

  • Age proof( If no age proof is available, self-declaration of age can  be submitted)
  •  proof of residence
  • Aadhaar card (If available)
  • Details of dependents 
  • Employer’s certificate of working for 90 days as a construction worker and nomination form.

Construction industry in India

As of 2023, India’s construction sector stands as the second-largest employment provider, engaging approximately 71 million workers. However, a notable portion of this workforce, around 81%, lacks formally recognized skills, with only 19% considered skilled employees. This sector serves as a vital source of livelihood for rural migrants, with interstate migrant workers heavily involved in construction activities across India. These workers belonging to different social strata are engaged in various job profiles in the complex construction sector which functions via multi-layered sub-contracting relationships. The migrants location within these networks of contracts and subcontracts determines his/her wage, accommodation, amenities, and the degrees of care he/she has access to at the destination. Migrants engaged in the big corporate construction firms at the apex of the sector are often provided with accommodation and mess facilities by the companies, whereas, for others only the arrangements for living at the destination are provided for by the contractors and subcontractors, who work with the big firms, government bodies or independently. There are also several instances where the migrants, often belonging to the same source location, rent out accommodation by themselves together in the city spaces or their respective work locations.

Due to the absence of formal recruitment mechanisms and consistent protective rights, individual migrants in the construction sector are directly reliant on their social location (which is intertwined with caste location), accumulated social capital, and negotiated contractual arrangements for safety, employment formality, mobility, and overall well-being. This further entrenches existing social cleavages of class, caste, age, gender, and ethnicity and sustains the vulnerabilities embedded within the life experiences of migrants belonging to marginalised social strata.

In such a backdrop BOCW card and the schemes associated with it could function as the desired social security net for the marginalised workforce engaged in the construction sector, especially for the migrant workers. Yet, difficulties in registering for the BOCW scheme hinder its effectiveness.

Despite the sector’s contribution to the country’s economic growth and progress, data reveals a concerning trend of underutilised funds within the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) cess. As of March 2019, only 39% of the INR 49,675 crore collected had been effectively utilised.

Problems faced by workers: Experiences from workers in Jharkhand

In discussions with the staff of the migration control room in Jharkhand, the Policy and Development Advisory Group (PDAG) discovered the numerous challenges migrant construction workers encounter when trying to register for the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) scheme.

  • A prerequisite for registering with the BOCW is a letter from the contractor confirming the worker’s employment under them. However, contractors are hesitant to provide this documentation due to the obligations outlined in the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act. Hiring migrant workers necessitates a contractor to obtain a licence from the specified authority both of the State to which the migrant worker belongs (home State) and the State in which he is proposed to be employed (host State). Additionally, the contractor is required to furnish particulars regarding the migrant worker to the specified authority (of both the home State and the host State);  issue every migrant worker employed by him, a passbook containing the details of the employment; displacement allowance and a journey allowance in addition to his wages. All these things together prompt contractors to evade documentation and licensing altogether. Consequently, this poses challenges for workers attempting to register without the required letter from the contractor.

  • Workers are required to renew their BOCW membership annually and retain receipts as proof for all years. Benefits are determined based on membership duration, enabling access to various schemes like safety kits and bicycles with relative ease. However, challenges emerge when accessing larger entitlements such as pensions, maternity benefits, and marriage assistance, which demand continuous membership.

Beneficial schemes for registered workers working in building and other construction works  (BOCW)by Jharkhand Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board
Name of the scheme Required duration of membership

Workers Tool help Scheme
After three months of registration.

Bicycle Help Scheme
Should have been a member of the Board for one year and have deposited the contribution for the next one year

Marriage Assistance Scheme
On continuous contribution for three years.

Pension Scheme
Should have contributed to the Board for three years.

If a worker misses a year, they must restart, rendering previous years’ memberships invalid. Consequently, the scheme’s full financial potential remains untapped as individuals struggle to progress to more substantial benefits.

The emphasis given to obtaining new registrations also often results in many individuals neglecting to renew their registration under the BOCW scheme after the first year. Consequently, they miss out on accessing various benefits that are available in subsequent years.

  • The government departments and ground-level staff are motivated to meet a predetermined target of registrations, as they are incentivized to do so. This drive for numbers has inadvertently led to situations where individuals who may not have met the eligibility criteria are being registered within the system.

  • Migrant workers who have registered for the BOCW scheme in other states often face challenges in accessing benefits due to issues of duplicacy. They are sometimes directed to avail benefits from the state where they are originally registered, despite their current location and need for assistance.

  • The requirement for physical signatures and the presence of migrant workers to register or renew BOCW cards poses a significant challenge, often resulting in cards being issued to proxy household members. This undermines the system’s intent, as the benefits, meant for individual laborers, do not reach the intended recipients, especially in critical situations like accidents.

MGNREGA card and BOCW schemes: An ease in the registration process or a loophole depriving legitimate beneficiaries?

To meet registration targets, states often conduct drives and enroll all eligible individuals, including those registered under MGNREGA by using their MGNREGA documents as proof. While this increases registration numbers, it also allows ineligible individuals to access BOCW benefits, while eligible migrant workers may be excluded from receiving them. Moreover, the focus on meeting targets means less emphasis is placed on renewing memberships for those already registered under BOCW. Consequently, new registrations often outnumber renewals in subsequent years. This situation raises questions about whether the broader objective of the BOCW scheme, which is welfare, is being achieved, or if it has become solely about meeting the registration targets set by the states.

Recommendations/ Way Forward: Insights from the field

Various suggestions and recommendations regarding BOCW emerged during PDAG’s field interactions with stakeholders and officials from civil society organizations across different states of India.

  1. To incorporate inter-state migrants within the BOCW board of their destination state, there is a need for larger funds. Registering MGNREGA workers under the BOCW board had led to constraints in the board’s fund. One way forward could be allocating a portion of funds from MGNREGA to the BOCW fund. To mitigate the shortage of funds a requirement of NOC (No Objection Certificate)from the labour department can be implemented when a new electricity connection is being sanctioned to newly built houses. BOCW  Cess can be collected from these properties only after which NOCs can be produced by the dept.

  2. To ensure people have their annual renewal of the BOCW card, some states like Chhattisgarh adopted a system where the registration fee for subsequent years is collected upfront in the initial payment. This approach ensures that every worker remains eligible for benefits without risking the lapse of their card, including important provisions like pension. A similar format can be adopted in all other states as well.

  3. It is recommended to ensure timely labour registration and transparent access to benefits by establishing clear timeframes for the process and entitlement availing. This would streamline procedures, reduce delays, and minimize reliance on individual discretion. Additionally, labourers should be informed of appeal deadlines upon application rejection to facilitate consistent pursuit and deter corruption. Utilizing mobile notifications for application updates and mandating written rejection notices with explicit reasons would further enhance transparency and fairness in the process, benefiting both laborers and the overall system.

  4. Ease of registration, IEC, Voice guides, self-declaration, recognition by unions, and recognition at both source and destination needs to be included.