SC Pulls Up Govt For Neglecting Construction Workers Welfare
Taking the government to task for not implementing a law meant for the welfare of construction workers, an exasperated Supreme Court (SC) on January 17 asked it to formally state that the orders passed by the top court in the matter were "thrown in the dustbin". Yet again, on July 3, the SC has dubbed the Labour Ministry’s affidavit as “absolutely false”.
The apex court questioned the Centre's attitude on the issue, and said it was clear that the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, could not be implemented at all, “making a joke” of welfare measures that were in the interest of the poor. “You are making a joke out of it. Rs 30,000 crore is at stake. Who is suffering? These poor people. Is this the kind of sympathy and compassion which you are showing towards poor people," said the Bench as it summoned the Union Labour Secretary to explain why its order was not complied with.
The situation has not changed. Previously as well the SC had said that it is "a completely helpless situation. If the government is not serious, tell us. What you are doing is that you are collecting money but not giving it to those (construction workers) for whom the money has been collected."
Over Rs 37,000 crore has been collected as cess under the 1996 Act. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had earlier in an affidavit told the court that funds meant for construction workers' welfare were being spent to buy laptops and washing machines.
"Why can't you be fair, tell us. You file an affidavit that orders passed by the Supreme Court in this matter are meaningless and they are thrown in the dustbin, so do not pass any orders now," a Bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta told Additional-Solicitor-General (ASG) Maninder Singh who was representing the government.
The observations were made during the hearing of a public interest litigation, which has alleged that the statutory cess levied on real estate companies for the welfare of construction workers was not being utilised properly as there was no mechanism to identify the beneficiaries to extend the benefits.
When the ASG informed the Bench about a recent meeting of the monitoring committee consisting of labour secretaries of all states and union territories, the court said that "attitude of the government is reflected by the minutes of the meeting".
The ASG told the court that implementation of the Act had to be centralised since the states have their own views.
Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for petitioner NGO National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour, said the recent meeting to discuss those issues was over in less than two hours, and nothing substantial was done.
The Bench then referred to the prayer in the petition and told Gonsalves, "From the meeting and the minutes, it is clear that the Act cannot be implemented."
The court thereafter heard arguments in the matter which would continue on January 18.
During the arguments, the ASG told the Bench that the Act meant for welfare of construction workers had to work with the aim with which it had been enacted.
The apex court had earlier stressed the need for involving civil society to effectively manage the laws for welfare of construction workers, and asked the Centre to take assistance from NGOs concerned with their welfare.
The Secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment had apprised the court that a national portal for the benefit of construction workers was being set up which could be used by NGOs for this purpose.
The court is hearing a matter related to implementation of two laws -- the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996, (Cess Act) -- meant for welfare of construction workers across the country.
With inputs from Housing News