Mentioning that the state is “committed to uphold the dignity” of its workers who build critical infrastructure in border areas, Jharkhand government has written again to Defense Secretary and NITI Aayog’s Special Secretary, urging them to direct Border Roads Organization (BRO) to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for better welfare measures to these workers.
In the last two years, this is the third missive from Jharkhand government, urging the BRO to get a better deal for its workers who face “exploitative working conditions” in high-altitude areas. A delegation, including Jharkhand’s Labor Secretary, had in the interim visited Ladakh for a discussion on the issue.
In the letter, dated on May 2, Jharkhand Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh wrote to the Defense Secretary, expressing these concerns. He wrote that a delegation with the Ladakh administration and chief engineers of Himank and Vijayak projects of BRO October last year and he urged that the BRO be directed to sign the MoU.
“During the meeting, the BRO representatives mentioned that any core policy issues related to annual induction of migrant workers and welfare benefits for them and its implementation will be undertaken only after instructions from BRO Headquarters,” Singh wrote.
In his letter to NITI Aayog Special Secretary K Rajeswara Rao, Singh sought his intervention to resolve the issue in “true spirit”.
Singh wrote: “hope I hope your intervention will help facilitate the much-delayed signing of an MoU between BRO and Government of Jharkhand, and its adherence by BRO to ensure safety, social welfare, and dignity of migrant workers of Jharkhand in Ladakh and other similar regions. ”
In both letters, Singh emphasized the need to demonstrate the need for a transparent and accountable recruitment process.
The matter was raised first during the first wave of Covid-19, when the state government airlifted 60 people from Jharkhand “stranded” in Ladakh. Then state Principal Secretary (Labor) Rajiv Arun Ekka wrote to the BRO DG, pointing out the problem of exploitation by agents. Later, BRO, an arm of the Defense Ministry, and the state mutually agreed to “Terms of Reference (TOR)” in June 2020.
In the TOR, Jharkhand asked for a commitment from BRO to sign an MoU to do away with contractors, increase wages, put in place better working conditions, hold registration under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act as an employer among others. On July 16, the state Labor Department wrote the BRO, accusing it of not keeping its commitment. The BRO in response denied the allegations.
Officials at Migrant Control Room in Jharkhand also emphaised this need and pointed towards a recent incident in Leh. For the last 16 days, they said, the body of a 45-year-old is lying in the mortuary of Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital in Leh, waiting to be claimed and identified.