‘Only Plans, No Execution’: Rs 28,000 Crore Collected as Cess for Construction Workers Over 23 Years Unused
According to a 2017 CAG report, laptops and washing machines were bought out of the funds meant for the welfare of construction workers and less than ten per cent of the money spent was for the actual purpose.
A labourer takes a break from her work at the construction site of a residential complex in Noida. (Photo: Reuters)
New Delhi: It was in 1996 when the Parliament passed an Act to collect 1 per cent cess from builders to be used for the welfare of construction workers.
In the 22 years since, governments across parties-lines have managed to accumulate a little more than Rs 45,400 crore. But they have spent only 35 percent of the corpus, resulting in almost Rs 28,000 crore lying unused as on October last year.
"The states and union territories have collected around Rs 45,473.1 crore and have spent Rs. 17,591.592 crore up to 30.9.18," read a document prepared by ministry of labour and employment, reviewed by News18.
Nine states including Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have spent less than 10 percent of the cess collected over the years.
According to a 2017 CAG report, laptops and washing machines were bought out of the whopping fund meant for the welfare of construction workers and less than ten per cent was spent on the actual purpose.
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) mandates one per cent cess on cost of construction. This money is supposed to be used for the welfare of the workers employed in the informal construction sector.
According to a Supreme Court proceeding, while the construction sector workforce is about four-crore strong, only 1.5 crore of the workers have been registered. This means most construction workers are denied “what is constitutionally and statutorily due to them”.
"A welfare board is setup in each state which is supposed to take care that the money collected is used for the workers," said an official from the ministry under conditions of anonymity.
Despite each state having a welfare board, the money is either not spent or is channelised for other activities, which in itself is illegal because the Act states that the funds cannot be used for any other purposes, not even for the welfare of workers belong to other sectors.
News18 reached out to former Delhi welfare board members and construction workers to find out ground realities.
"The board members keep making one plan after another. Every meeting there used to be a new plan. Sometimes there were plans of buying cycles for the workers, some meeting were spent on arguing on how much to give to each worker. Only plans and no execution," said Vinod Kumar Singh, a former member of the welfare board for Delhi’s workers.
Other members also informed about political pressure and corruption creeping into the system.
Benefits under the Act include paid maternity leave to registered construction workers ranging from 90 days to 26 weeks for up to two deliveries along with Rs 6,000 per delivery for up to two deliveries to the wives of the registered construction workers. This was in addition to any other benefit received from any government schemes.
"The rules are only on paper. There was no money given and no paid holidays at all when my wife was pregnant. I am a registered construction worker. For those who somehow manage to get the money receive only half of it because the other half is used up by the deputy commissioner designated with disbursal of funds," alleged Raju Kamal, a construction worker in Delhi.
Raju is not the only one complaining. There are umpteen like him facing the same situation every day. Labour offices in different parts of Delhi deny monetary benefits stating lack of funds despite thousands of crores lying unused.
The Supreme Court had on July 21, 2018, set the deadline of September 30 for the Centre to finalise a welfare scheme for building and construction workers across the country. However, any such scheme is yet to be implemented on the ground.
A bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta made it clear to the government that "no further time" would be granted to it for finalising the welfare scheme.
"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," the top court had said then and had summoned the union labour secretary.
The labour secretary had appeared in the court and assured the bench that he would look into the issues raised by the petitioner and another draft scheme would be put up on the website of the ministry.
The court had earlier too lashed out at the Centre after an affidavit was filed by the CAG saying that a chunk of funds meant for construction workers' welfare had been spent to buy laptops and washing machines and less than ten per cent was spent for the actual purpose.
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