Union Labour & Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya held a meeting with his Delhi counterpart Gopal Rai this week, during which he asked the latter not to divert the construction cess for programmes other than prescribed in the Act. Speaking to this newspaper, Dattatreya said, “If they (Delhi government) build schools, hospitals, etc., how will they ensure that these remain exclusively for construction workers?”
Dattatreya said that as per the provisions of the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996, the fund is meant for fatal accident relief, disability relief, hospitalisation relief, funeral expenses, natural death relief, skill development training, marriage gift, maternity gift, etc. “Nobody can spend the funds for other purposes. That can be done only after amending the Act,” he said.
While the Act clearly stipulates how to utilise the funds, the Supreme Court last year also asked the state governments to spend money strictly as per provisions of the Act. The Apex Court also directed the Delhi government return Rs 2.69 crore which was diverted for advertisements, from the welfare fund.
The minister added that after his objection, Gopal Rai assured him that he would look into the matter so that the fund was utilised for the purpose stipulated in the Act. He also said that he wrote to all Chief Ministers about a month ago to ensure that the welfare fund was spent only for social security schemes.
While the Act clearly stipulates how to utilise the funds, the Supreme Court too last year had to ask the state governments to spend money strictly as per the provisions of the Act.
The Centre had introduced the Welfare Cess Act under which the state governments collect 1-2% cess on the cost of construction incurred by the builders working in different areas. This cess being deposited in the Construction Workers’ Welfare Boards. The money deposited in these boards is utilised for their welfare schemes. As per provisions of the Act, every registered construction worker is eligible to get this fund from these boards in times of need.
In Delhi, the utilisation of this fund is very poor. From April 2011 to September last year, the Delhi government collected Rs 1,796 crore, but spent only Rs 154 crore, which is less than 10%.
Around 12 lakh labourers are engaged in construction activities in the capital. Speaking to this newspaper, Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly, Vijender Gupta said it was case of “cheating” the labourers. “Instead of spending the fund for social security schemes of the workers, the state government is planning to spend it on public works,” said Gupta.