On January 17, the Supreme Court pulled up the government for failing to implement the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1996. “If the government is not serious, tell us,” the court said. It added this was a “completely helpless situation”.
The 1996 Act is meant to regulate the employment and conditions of service of building and other construction workers and to provide for their safety, health and welfare. The matter of slow progress of implementation has been brought up earlier too.
The government has collected over ₹35,000 crore in cess for the welfare of construction workers employed in the high-risk and hazardous construction industry that is mostly controlled by private companies.
In 2015, the apex court had said that it was “ridiculous” that this money was going to “some babus”.
In November 2012, the Union Cabinet had approved of amendments to the 1996 Act and the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act of 1996 in order to streamline the process of registration of construction workers.
These two Acts apply to establishments that employ 10 or more workers. The major source of funds to the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board is the collection of cess at the rate of 1% of the construction cost incurred by the employer under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act.
The fund has to be utilised for the welfare of such workers. The Centre is the implementing agency in the Central sphere and State governments implement the provisions of the Act at the State level. Under the Act, the States have to constitute welfare boards, make rules, constitute advisory committees and appoint various authorities for registration of workers, cess collection, and inspection.
The Labour Ministry in 2017 informed the court that the number of workers registered under the Act had increased from 2.15 crore to 2.8 crore. It said that the cess collected also went up from ₹25,477 crore to ₹37,482 crore.
The court said that it was important to ensure that the beneficiaries of the Act are “construction workers who are primarily migrant workers and most, if not all of them, are indigent and extremely poor”.
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