Plight of Construction Workers

Labour and Welfare

Bharat Dogra

Although important laws were enacted in 1996 to provide many-sided benefits to construction workers and protect their rights, these benefits and rights have still not reached the overwhelming majority of construction workers. One of the main reasons for this is that welfare boards which have to play a crucial role in this have not been functioning properly.

In its judgment dated 18.1.2010 Supreme Court of India directed that the following measures require to be implemented by the States without further delay:
1.    Welfare Boards have to be constituted by each State with adequate full time staff within three months.
2.   Welfare Boards will have to meet at least once in two months or as specified in the rules, to discharge their statutory functions.
3.   Awareness should be built up, about the registration of building workers and about the benefits available under the Act. There should be effective use of media, AIR and Doordarshan, for awareness programmes regarding the Act, the benefits available there under and procedures for availing the benefits.
4.   Each state government shall appoint Registering Officers and set up centres in each district to receive and register the applications and issue receipts for the applications.
5.   Registered trade unions, Legal Service Authorities and NGOs are to be encouraged to assist the workers to submit applications for registration and for seeking benefits.
6.   All contracts with Governments shall require registration of workers under the Act and extension of benefits to such workers under the Act.
7.   Steps to be taken to collect the cess under the Cess Act continuously.
8.   The benefits under the Act have to be extended to the registered workers within a stipulated time frame, preferably within six months.
9.   The Member Secretary of the Welfare Boards and the Labour Secretary shall be responsible for due implementation of the provisions of the Act. The Labour Ministry of each state shall carry out special drives to implement the provisions of the Act.
10.  The CAG should audit the entire implementation of the Act and use of the funds.
11.   All Boards shall submit comprehensive reports as required under the Act and Rules to the respective Government.

Unfortunately these directions of he Supreme Court have still not been implemented properly. The National Campaign Committee for Construction Workers' legislation recently made the following submissions in the Supreme Court regarding the functioning of the Delhi Board, " In Delhi the Board has not been meeting in accordance with Rule 253 of the Delhi Rules. The meetings are very infrequent. Although this Hon'ble Court had directed that there should be adequate full time staff and a secretary, there is neither adequate full time staff nor a full time secretary. For the estimated 8 lakh construction workers at Delhi, it is estimated by the petitioner that at least, in the first instance, 200 full time staff and one full time Labour Commissioner and 9 Deputy Labour Commissioners (one for each district of Delhi) are appointed on a permanent basis exclusively for implementing the provisions of this Act. As opposed to this the Welfare Board has no staff of its own and has given the work on contract to a private party and such sub contracting is not only most unsatisfactory but also highly suspicious.

"There is a need to create an independent, autonomous and specialized staff in the offices of the Welfare Boards along the lines of the ESI and Provident Fund Departments. So that expertise is developed and the statutes are implemented. At Delhi, there is also no proper record of rsnewal of registration and most of the registrations earlier done are now dud registrations. There is also no proper record of the cess, that is to be collected from the various employers and the cess actually collected. The state government claims to have disbursed 28.30 crores till date. However, a large chunk of this money i.e. Rs 20 crores is parked in the account of the Director Education, Delhi government and is gathering interest at the cost of the beneficiaries. The only amount actually disbursed is about Rs. 1.14 crores for 4724 children studying in schools of the Directorate of Education by way of scholarships. The total number of children of construction workers in the government of NCT of Delhi area is estimated at 15 lakhs children. These chileren study in the Directorate of Education Schools, the MCD Schools, the NDMC Schools and the schools in the Cantonment Boards and also in higher education. The pitiable implementation of the Act can be seen from the fact that out of 15 lakhs children disbursements are being made only to 4724 children. Similarly the health benefits have, according to the petitioner, being distributed to only 2 persons from the inception of the Act and these 2 persons have received Rs 200 each. Here, as in education large amounts are parked in an interest bearing account of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana instead of being disbursed to the beneficiaries.

"It appears as if the authorities are under the impression that the cess collected is to be parked in interest bearing accounts rather than be distributed to the beneficiaries. This money given for the purposes of implementing RSBY is actually given to private insurance companies. If the conduct of these insurance companies is checked and their accounts are audited one could perhaps detect corruption in the implementation of this scheme. Regarding registration of workers though the latest figures supplied by the state show that 1,10,000 workers are registered but according to the petitioner the live registrations are less than 40,000 and the majority of the registrations have lapsed. This is obvious from the paltry distribution of benefits. What this means is that there are registrations done on paper but no benefits are going to the workers. There are a large number of applications from construction workers for pension, maternity benefits, marriage expenses, scholarships for higher education and the like. But they are lying unattended for years as part of a deliberate policy of the state to not pay benefit. Only 20 families of construction workers who died due to natural causes have been paid death benefits of Rs 15,000 each even though thousands of construction workers would have died since the inception of the Act.

"The present thinking of the officials in the Welfare Board is that instead of providing benefits that are provided for in the Act and Rules, items such as cycles, pressure cooker, sewing machines and the like should be purchased to be distributed. This, according to the petitioners is not a bonafide scheme but is likely to fuel corruption and lead to scams.

"Further, instead of distributing benefits to the workers the Welfare Board officials are planning to establish training centres where once again money will be spent on contractors and construction work and siphoned away instead of benefits given."

An audit of the Delhi Board revealed —"The Board has not mapped all the construction workers in Delhi, as only 87273 construction workers have been registered up to 31 March 2012, against census figure of 2001 at 352830, the strength of workers. Out of fifteen welfare schemes prescribed under the Act, benefits of only seven schemes were availed by members, indicating lack of spread of awareness.

The Board incurred administrative expenditure in excess of prescribed limit of five per cent of total expenditure, in six financial years.

Rs 13.20 crore and Rs 4.24 crore were released in lump sum to the Directorate of Education and the Directorate of Health Services respectively, out of which 6.99 crore is lying unutilised. The decision of the Government to set up 25 Chalta-Firta Schools at construction sites for the children of construction workers, was not implemented even after release of Rs 7.50 crore by the Board to the Universal Elementary Education Mission depriving children of education and interest loss of Rs 1.75 crore. Imprudent financial decisions resulted in further loss of interest amounting to Rs 4.24 crore.

The Board has no mechanism in place to assess and monitor the collection of cess from the local bodies like MCD, DDA etc. In two cases, MCD did not credit, ' 2.66 crore and Rs.1.46 crore collected by it as cess, in Board's Account.

The Board spent Rs. 0.98 crore on publicity campaign of Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana though the responsibility for publicity rested with the insurance company as per the scheme's parameters.

The functioning of the Board was suffering due to lack of adequate man power and provisions of the Act governing budget, annual report, registration of workers, meetings of the Board, submission of Accounts to the C&AG of India etc. were not being adhered to or complied with."

An audit of the Gujarat Board revealed that,
"1.  Out of 12 lakh estimated construction workers in Gujarat, the number of beneficiaries registered under the Main Act up to March 2012 is only 65031 (5.41%).
2.   Against the registered beneficiaries of 65031 up to March 2012, only 9930 (15%) beneficiaries were provided assistance.
3.   Against the Plan Grant of Rs. 12.89 crore received by the Board up to March 2012, assistance amounting to Rs 2.06 crore (16%) only was extended to 9930 registered beneficiaries up to March 2012.
4.   No benefit was provided under Medical Assistance, House Assistance and Skill Training and Free Tool Distribution Schemes.
5.   No scheme was formulated for extending pensionary benefits to beneficiaries as envisaged under Section 22 of the Main Act.

This shows that the Board has not performed satisfactorily either in terms of number of beneficiaries covered or in terms of quantum of assistance provided. On being pointed out in audit, the Board did not reply to the points raised."

Clearly it is important to immediately take strong steps to improve the functioning of construction workers welfare boards so that these boards can play the legally stipulated role of bringing significant benefits to construction workers and protecting their rights.

Vol. 47, No. 5, Aug 10 - 16, 2014