Right of construction workers to live with dignity.

Enforcement of Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (the BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers‘ Welfare Cess Act, 1996 (the Cess Act)

Under the Cess Act, more than Rs. 37,400 crores have been collected for the benefit of construction workers, but only about Rs. 9500 crores have been utilized ostensibly for their benefit. What is being done with the remaining about Rs. 28,000 crores? Why is it that construction workers across the country are being denied the benefit of this enormous amount?

Duty to implement laws:

The sanctity of laws enacted by Parliament must be acknowledged – laws are enacted for being adhered to and not for being flouted. The rule of law must be respected and along with it the human rights and dignity of building and construction workers must also be respected and acknowledged, to avoid a complete breakdown of the BOCW Act compounded by serious violations of Part III of the Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights.

Directions by Supreme Court:

Our first direction, therefore, is to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the State Governments and the UTAs to put in place and strengthen the registration machinery, both for the registration of establishments as well as registration of construction workers. This should be done within a specified time-frame to be decided by them, but at the earliest.

Our second direction to the Ministry, the State Governments and UTAs in this regard is to establish and strengthen the machinery for the collection of cess. It is a matter of common knowledge that there is a tremendous amount of construction activity going on all over the country and there is no reason why establishments involved in the construction activity, both formal as well as non-formal, should not pay the cess, especially when they are utilizing the services of the construction workers. Similarly, there is no reason why the construction workers of these establishments should be denied their entitlements and benefits under the BOCW Act and other laws. As noted above, huge amounts are involved and we will not be surprised if the quarterly collection of Rs. 5000 crores is perhaps the minimum – the cess collected could be much, much more, if the registration machinery and the collection machinery are strengthened and work to their potential.

As we have seen above, State Governments and UTAs have framed a large number of schemes allegedly for the benefit of construction workers. The multiplicity of schemes brings to mind the adage that too many cooks spoil the broth. Keeping a track of these schemes is by itself an enormous task, perhaps resulting in administrative issues and red tape. It would be worthwhile if a model scheme is framed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, which appears to be best equipped to do so, taking the best practices (so to speak) of the existing schemes. This model scheme can then be made available to all concerned, that is, the State Governments, the UTAs and the Welfare Boards with the flexibility of making appropriate modifications wherever necessary.

Our third direction, therefore, is to the Ministry of Labour and Employment to frame one composite Model Scheme for the benefit of construction workers in consultation with all stakeholders including NGOs who are actually working at the grassroots level with construction workers. While there is an urgency in framing such a Model Scheme, we would caution the Ministry of Labour and Employment to make haste slowly and to prepare a Model Scheme that is comprehensive and can easily be implemented, is pragmatic and does not involve too much paperwork.

In preparing the Model Scheme, we expect the Ministry of Labour and Employment to include within it, inter alia, issues and concerns of education, health, social security, old age and disability pension and other benefits that are necessary for living a life of dignity as postulated by the Constitution of India. We also expect the Model Scheme to be framed and publicized within a specified time-frame to be decided by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, preferably within six months, but in any event on or before 30th September, 2018.

Unfortunately, as the variance in the figures shows, there is an absence of an effective audit in at least one of the three categories of audits, if not in all three. It is not for us to give any direction to the CAG on how to perform its functions, being a constitutional authority, but we are of opinion that it is necessary for the CAG to take stock of issues and problems pertaining to the implementation of the BOCW Act and to ensure that effective and meaningful audits are carried out, keeping in mind the huge amounts involved.
On the issue of audits, it would be worthwhile and relevant for the State Governments and the Welfare Boards in every State and UTA to conduct a social audit. The CAG has prepared detailed guidelines for conducting a social audit in respect of some other schemes (for example, the Report of the Working Group on Developing Social Audit Standards with reference to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005) and these guidelines can be adapted mutatis mutandis for carrying out a social audit in respect of the implementation of the BOCW Act.

Our fourth direction is to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the State Governments and the UTAs to conduct a social audit on the implementation of the BOCW Act so that in future there is better and more effective and meaningful implementation of the BOCW Act. If a mistake has occurred, and we have no doubt that hundreds of mistakes have occurred in the implementation of the BOCW Act, it is more appropriate to admit the mistake for a better future rather than to justify it or continue to repeat the mistake. This is more so in the case of the BOCW Act where crores of men, women and children are involved on a day-to-day basis and Parliament has thought it appropriate to legislate for their benefit. The sanctity of laws enacted by Parliament must be acknowledged – laws are enacted for being adhered to and not for being flouted. The rule of law must be respected and along with it the human rights and dignity of building and construction workers must also be respected and acknowledged, to avoid a complete breakdown of the BOCW Act compounded by serious violations of Part III of the Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights.

General Directions by Supreme Court:

1. Every State Government and UTA shall constitute a State Advisory Committee, if not already constituted, and that State Advisory Committee shall meet regularly for conducting its business. It may be mentioned that Rule 20 of the Building and Other Construction Workers‘ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Central Rules, 1998 provides that the Central Advisory Committee shall meet at least once in six months. This could be used as a good guideline for meetings of the State Advisory Committee.

2. Every State Government and UTA shall constitute an Expert Committee and frame statutory Rules under Section 62 of the BOCW Act, if such statutory Rules have not already been framed. Setting up an Expert Committee and framing statutory rules should be in a time bound manner, with the exercise being completed preferably within six months and in any event by 30th September, 2018.

3. The State Governments and UTAs must appoint Registering Officers for registration of establishments and construction workers. This is a critical aspect of the implementation of the BOCW Act as well as the Cess Act.

4. Every State Government and UTA should establish a Welfare Board in terms of Section 18 of the BOCW Act. It must be appreciated that this is not a body that can be created by an executive order. The law requires that the Welfare Board shall be a body corporate having perpetual succession and a common seal. There are therefore legal formalities to be carried out for the constitution of a Welfare Board.

5. Every State Government and UTA should establish a Welfare Fund for the benefit of the construction workers, with appropriate rules for utilisation of the funds.

6. It is imperative that all construction workers should be given identity cards and should be registered in terms of Section 12 of the BOCW Act. The Ministry of Labour and Employment has proposed the issuance of a Universal Access Number for each construction worker. We make no comment or observation about the efficacy or otherwise of a Universal Access Number. It was submitted by learned counsel for the petitioner that smart cards should be issued to all construction workers. We keep this issue open and leave it to the Ministry of Labour and Employment to decide on an appropriate system of identification and registration, provided it is effective and meaningful.

7. The Ministry of Labour and Employment shall actively consider making available to the construction workers the benefits of The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, The Employees‘ State Insurance Act, 1948, the Employees‘ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, as well as (to the extent possible) the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005.

8. The Ministry of Labour and Employment should also consider whether projects of the Government of India in the railways, defence and other establishments are brought within the purview of the BOCW Act.

9. The Monitoring Committee which has had quite a few meetings so far should pro-actively ensure full compliance of the provisions of the BOCW Act, the Cess Act and the directions issued by this Court. It needs to meet far more frequently, and in any case once in three months, considering that thousands of crores of rupees are not being gainfully utilized, and in some instances, misutilized.

[Source: National Campaign Committee  vs Union Of India, decided by SC on 19 March, 2018]
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