New Delhi: “If the government is not serious, tell us.” This is what the supreme court Wednesday told the Central government expressing its displeasure on its orders regarding implementation  of the law meant for the welfare of the construction workers. The court wanted to know from the Central government whether its orders regarding implementation of  the law meant for the welfare of construction workers has been “thrown in the dusbin”.

” It is completely a helpless situation”, it said adding, “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.”
A division bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, while questioning the Centre’s attitude on the issue, said it was clear that the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, cannot be implemented at all.

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.

The bench told the additional solicitor general (ASG) Maninder Singh, who was representing the government, “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,” said the bench.

The observations were made during the hearing of a PIL which has alleged that the statutory cess levied on real estate firms 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, “attitude of the government is reflected by the minutes of the meeting”.

The ASG told the court that implementation of the Act has 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 these 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 tomorrow.

During the arguments, the ASG told the bench that the Act meant for welfare of construction workers has to work with the aim with which it has 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 collection of cess under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 has increased from about Rs 25,477 crore to about Rs 37,482 crore,” the secretary had told the court.