Periyathai had worked all her life in a stone quarry and decided to quit in 2011 when she turned 60. Life has not been easy for her after that either.

Construction worker Periyathais brutal 9-year wait for pension from TN labour dept
news Govt Apathy Friday, February 15, 2019 - 11:46

For 68-year-old Periyathai, the wait has been brutal. It’s almost 9 years since she turned 60 and hung up her boots after working in a stone quarry, hoping to lead a relaxed life with the old age pension that she is entitled to. However, she now feels that doing the arduous job of breaking stones in the quarry was far better.

“I have done everything that I can to get the money I am entitled to, but till date I have not received the money. I even dragged the officials to court and obtained an order in my favour, but it is still useless,” Periyathai rues.

Periyathai’s story is a sad one. After having worked in a stone quarry in the outskirts of Chennai for as long as she can remember, she enrolled herself with the Tamil Nadu Construction Workers Welfare Board (TNCWWB) in 2001, a body set up by the Government of Tamil Nadu to provide assistance to workers from the unorganised sector.

“I registered because of the benefits it gave me, a normal daily wage earner. And since the day I registered, I have not missed a single membership renewal and have paid the fees in full till now,” she adds. According to TNCWWB rules, every registered manual worker who has completed 60 years of age is eligible for a pension of Rs 1,000 per month.

In 2011, when she turned 60 and with her health declining drastically, Periyathai decided to call it quits at the quarry. However, her fate of running from pillar to post remained the same even after she stopped working. It was at this juncture that she enrolled with the Pen Thozhilalargal Sangam (PTS), an organisation working to help women labourers working in the unorganised sector get the benefits and dues they are entitled to.

“She is one of our earliest members and hearing her plight, we decided to step in and help in whatever way possible,” says Sujata Mody, PTS President. As PTS volunteers took her case to the government offices, things began to get complicated. Constant changes in the documents required – from voter ID card to recently asking for the Aadhar card, the authorities seem to be doing everything to delay the process, shares Sujata, adding that it becomes even more difficult when the labour department officers keep changing. PTS decided to take the matter to court and filed a writ petition.

In December 2018, the Madras High Court ruled that the Tamil Nadu Labour department disburse Periyathai’s pension amount that was due to her from the time she turned 60. “In the court, the labour officer also promised that this order will be implemented in two weeks. It has been almost six weeks now, she is still waiting,” says Sujata. She also adds that of the three women who were denied pension, one died in the waiting period and the other migrated to her hometown after failing to get the money. “Periyathai has nowhere to go basically. Hence she is fighting for her right and we are assisting her,” Sujata adds.

Armed with the court order, Sujata and Periyathai approached the TNCWWB Secretary Baskaran, who also ordered his junior officers to disburse the amount due at the earliest. “That didn’t work either. He, in fact, said that if the court has ordered, then no officer can delay the implementation or override the order and hence directed the department to release the payment. That also didn’t happen,” rues Sujata.

Adding that a beneficiary has to run from pillar to post and finally even approach the High Court to get what she is rightfully entitled to, Sujata says that this is the status with a statutory authority that does not even need government fund sanction to function. “The TNCWWB works with the money which the builders pay as cess while obtaining approvals. It does not even have the excuse of saying that we were waiting for the fund to be released from the government,” she explains.

However, Lingeswaran, the Assistant Labour Commissioner, told TNM that the amount was sanctioned on February 11, 2019. “We were waiting for a legal opinion on the matter and that caused the delay. The amount has been credited to her account on Tuesday,” he added.

However, till Thursday morning, Periyathai has not received the amount the officer claims to have transferred. Sujata says that once a court has passed an order, there is no reason to get a legal opinion on it, more so when a hapless labourer is involved. As Periyathai’s memory has also started failing gradually, she waits with the hope that someday she will get the money, which will at least pay for her now increasing hospital visits. 

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