On May 20, Karnataka government announced COVID lockdown relief of Rs 2,000 for domestic workers under its Seva Sindhu scheme. But due to the tedious application process, only a tiny fraction of workers have been able to even apply online for the relief. As per a report in the Times of India, Karnataka is estimated to have 10 lakh domestic workers, but as of June 23, only 1.4 lakh of them had applied on the Seva Sindhu portal. There were only 23,552 applications from Bengaluru Urban district.
To apply, domestic workers had to upload their passport size photo, BPL ration card, Aadhar card, bank account details, and an employment form attested by a gazetted officer, on the portal. But as per High Court proceedings last week, the state government brought out a notification simplifying the process. Nevertheless, the application process remains difficult, and some of the changes promised by the government have still not reflected on the Seva Sindhu portal.
To help more domestic workers apply, the NGOs Reap Benefit and Indus Action are now working with the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (BAF). An app we developed will easily enable each apartment resident to file the application on behalf of their domestic worker.
Why is the application process difficult?
- We have encountered instances where Circle Inspectors of the Labour Department did not accept BPL ration cards of migrant workers from other states (Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, etc.). This will exclude a sizable number of domestic workers in the city. As per the government notification, BPL cards are no longer needed for the application. But as of July 5th, entering the BPL card number, card holder’s name, etc is still mandatory in the portal.
- Also, we found that many domestic workers had applied for a BPL ration card 1.5-2 years ago, but had not received the card. They possessed an acknowledgement receipt for their BPL ration card application. They are able to get food grains from the PDS shops with the receipt, but can’t use it to apply for COVID relief.
- The requirement to link bank accounts with Aadhar leads to further exclusion.
- Digital literacy among domestic workers is low, and the cumbersome process makes it even more difficult for them to register on the Seva Sindhu portal. We also found that citizens have been facing server issues while using the portal; each time the server fails, the application has to be filled all over again.
- Citizen Service Centres/Bangalore One centres charge a minimum of Rs 80-100, which can go up to Rs 250-300, to process each application, for print-outs, internet charges and involvement of middlemen. Additionally, the loss of days at work makes it extremely difficult for workers.
Before last week’s court hearing, domestic workers had to get the signature of a gazetted officer on their employment form. They had to get a print-out of the employment form from the Seva Sindhu portal, enter their details, find a gazetted officer and get his signature, and upload the form back online. Additionally, it was impossible for a gazetted officer to verify the worker’s employment details sitting remotely, and hence the whole purpose was questionable. Some circle inspectors had refused to sign the applications outside their respective circles as well. As per the government notification, now the employment certificate only needs to be signed by the employer, not a gazetted officer.
- There is confusion about the last date for filing applications. As per Seva Sindhu website, it is July 20. For the last two days however, posters mentioning July 10 as the deadline have been circulating on social media. And some workers have been told from Bangalore One centres that there will be an extension of another month. Official notification on this will help clear the confusion.
- Migrant domestic workers without state BPL/AAY cards should also be eligible to apply for the scheme.
- Many workers possess only the acknowledgement copies of having applied for ration cards. This should be accepted in lieu of ration cards.
- There is also confusion about information shared by senior officers in the Labour Department versus what the approving authorities are following. For example, the Labour Commissioner has said that out-of-state migrants would get the relief, whereas some circle inspectors declined to sign ration cards from Bihar and Assam. It will be very beneficial if all recent changes are clearly communicated in writing.
- A section of workers do not have a bank account in their name or have a joint account. Since we are submitting family details of the workers based on their ration cards, this conditionality also may be removed.
Here’s how you can support your domestic help
Reap Benefit and Indus Action are working with BAF to aid the registration of domestic workers employed in BAF’s member-communities. These communities include around two lakh apartment owners and almost 7.5 lakh residents. Within the apartment network, there are over two lakh workers. As a pilot, Indus Action and Reap benefit are supporting the registration of 1000 domestic workers through an interactive Whatsapp Chatbot. The chatbot provides an easy-to-use platform for submitting applications.
The aim is to help apartment residents enrol the respective domestic workers they employ, in a decentralised manner. Through this, we intend to support the domestic workers associated with BAF access COVID relief in a time-bound manner.
Reap Benefit, Indus Action and our CSC partner, are coming together to deliver support on creating awareness about the schemes, access and post-application support.
- Reducing information and access barriers by providing easy-to-comprehend communication material for homeowners. Information on who is eligible and what documentation is required has also been actively communicated through apartment WhatsApp groups, to elicit more registrations.
- Reducing process barriers by identifying pain points within the process, and advocating for change at the level of the Labour Commissioner. We have also submitted a joint memorandum with a five-point agenda to remove conditionalities, so as to increase uptake.
Our campaign started from July 27, and we have received about 350 applications from six apartment complexes in the BAF network – Godrej Woodsman Apartments, Brigade Millenium – Magnolia, Bhuvana Greens, Shriram Spandhana, Whitehouse Apartments and Mantri Green . We have generated employment certificates for 95 applicants and 42 of them have been successfully uploaded on the Seva Sindhu portal. Before the changes with the new government notification, four applicants were rejected as the Aadhar card of the applicants was not linked with their phone numbers. These rejections are only at the application filing stage. Any rejections at the stage of approval and money transfer will be in addition to these numbers.
Nagamma, a domestic worker at a BAF member-apartment, says, “I didn’t know about the COVID compensation announced by the Government of Karnataka. The weeks of lockdown have caused deep distress to me and my family. My husband lost his livelihood and the family is dependent on my earnings. I am thankful to my employer for letting me know about this scheme and filling the COVID relief application through Whatsapp. Any kind of extra financial support at this point will be critical to me and my family to tide over this period of crisis.”
Vidya Goggi, Joint Secretary and Governing Council Member, BAF, says, “I feel delighted to be approached by many domestic workers in my apartment enquiring for support for facilitating the application submission in a smart way!”
We will continue to scale this across other apartments. We are organising help desks and webinars to share information and address queries proactively. We hope we will be able to reach all eligible domestic workers in the BAF network, and also inspire other home owners to support workers in registering for the benefit.
If you are an individual house owner, you can simply create a login for yourself on the Seva Sindhu portal, and enter the the following details of your employee:
- Personal Details ( Name, gender, mobile no. caste, religion, DOB)
- Aadhar card details
- Bank account details (Bank account should be linked to the worker’s Aadhar account)
- BPL/AAY card details
- Employer certificate copy (which you can certify for the worker), and your (employer) ID proof
Registration of domestic workers in the state portal is important not just for the one-time COVID compensation; it’s also a giant step in the direction of building a credible social registry of domestic workers in the state, which will enable us to ascertain the magnitude of the domestic work sector.
It will help the state government to make the transfer of any compensation during an impending third wave of the pandemic, and also help better targeting of any other social protection scheme in future. We are also closely working with Stree Jagriti Samithi, a Domestic Workers Union in Karnataka to understand the challenges faced by domestic workers during this pandemic owing to the loss of work and wages. Through this we hope to advocate for policy changes to the Department of Labour and assist the workers in tiding over the crisis they are currently facing.