Shagun given to 28 underage brides, labour officials in dock

PATIALA: The Labour Department has once again landed itself in the soup as a few assistant labour commissioners have admitted to disbursing funds for the marriages of underage girls — an act which promotes child marriage.

Shagun given to 28 underage brides, labour officials in dock

editorial@tribune.com

Karam Prakash

Tribune News Service

Patiala, December 7

The Labour Department has once again landed itself in the soup as a few assistant labour commissioners have admitted to disbursing funds for the marriages of underage girls — an act which promotes child marriage.

In a written reply to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at a meeting on Thursday, the Patiala assistant labour commissioner admitted to wrongdoings in the disbursement of funds under the Shagun scheme. While admitting to the irregularities, Moga assistant labour commissioner stated that there was no mention of age of the girl child at the time of marriage under the BOCW Board Punjab-2015 amended rules. However, he said that future directions given by the board would be adhered to give benefits appropriately.

Significantly, the Patiala assistant labour commissioner clarified in the said meeting that orders had already been issued for the recovery of money from the beneficiaries. Under the scheme, every registered person is entitled to receive a help of Rs 30,000 for the marriage of his/her daughter.

Sources said PAC members were already miffed at the late reply by labour officials as they had overpassed the 15-day deadline to reply. Moreover, PAC officials were said to be not satisfied with the replies, sources informed.

Notably, the first-ever audit of the BOCW Welfare Board had revealed that the state Labour Department gave financial assistance to at least 28 underage girls for their marriage under the Punjab government’s flagship Shagun scheme from 2013 to 2018.

The audit was conducted in seven circles — Jalandhar-1, Jalandhar-2, Moga, Patiala, Gurdaspur, Sangrur and Amritsar. The SDM of the respective areas, too, are under scanner as the claims for financial assistance were approved by them.

Vijay Walia, director of the Centre for Social Change and Equity, an organisation fighting for the rights of construction labourers, said, “It appears that the state promoted a crime because the SDM cleared these cases without a proper check. If there is child marriage in an area, the case is filed in the SDM court only. Here, the SDM himself, seemingly, promoted the crime.”

Meanwhile, after the meeting, the PAC chairman has already asked the Chief Secretary of the Labour Department to take action within 15 days against the erring officials. AAP Legislator Kulwant Singh Pandori, PAC member, said, “We demand immediate action against the officials concerned for the irregularities.”