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Why construction workers continue to suffer in India

Infra News - Published on Fri, 29 Dec 2017

Image Source: thewire.in
DNA reported that a whopping INR 22,000 crore is currently stashed in bank accounts of construction workers’ welfare boards. Besides, a bouquet of welfare schemes and a special statutory organisation in every state is working on the welfare of construction workers!

Ideally speaking, Indian construction workers could not have asked for more. However, this rosy picture does not reflect the sad realities on the ground. Two decades ago, the government via two historic legislations -- The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996 and the Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996 -- had attempted to transform the lives of construction workers. The former led to the creation of an organisation named the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board in every state to ensure the welfare of construction workers. The latter ensured financial sustainability and independence of these boards by mandating levy of cess of 1 per cent of the estimated cost of construction projects above INR 20 lakh.

With the government notifying the two legislations in August 1996, crores of poor and vulnerable construction workers were ecstatic. This euphoria, unfortunately, was short-lived.

The two legislations started gathering dust in the states’ labour departments. Twenty-three states, including big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, and Chhattisgarh, took over a decade to set up the boards, design welfare schemes, collect cess and use it for the welfare of construction workers. In most states, even after the boards were set up, the long desired and much-needed welfare net kept eluding the construction workforce.

The reasons are manifold. For instance, registration of construction workers and uptake of welfare schemes are poor. Huge funds accumulated in the accounts of the boards remain unspent.

According to the information provided to Parliament in December 2016, the boards had collected INR 28,454 crores, out of which only INR 6,097 crores (21 per cent) had been spent.

Even the Hon’ble Supreme Court had expressed concerns over the minuscule amount spent on the welfare of construction workers during hearings of the writ petition filed by the National Campaign Committee in the matter. The CAG teams too have highlighted several deficiencies in the functioning of the Boards, low expenditure on workers’ welfare, high administrative expenditure, poor uptake of welfare schemes, lack of maintenance of records and accounts, leakages of cess, to name a few.

The boards were expected to set a milestone in the history of welfare governance. Their failure arouses shock, confusion, anger and many questions.

A preliminary review of websites of the Boards and audit reports of CAG reveals several causes of the malaise infesting them. It begins at the top, which is the governing body. As per Section 18 of the Act, these organisations were to be headed by a person appointed by the central government. To ensure the independence of the boards, their governing bodies were mandated to have equal representation from the government, representatives of construction workers and their employers. However, the Centre never nominated a chairman for any of the boards, leaving the task to the states, which they enthusiastically grabbed.

Barring only a couple of states such as Kerala and Orissa, most states have appointed either the minister or the secretary of the labour department as the Chairman.

As a result, focused attention on planning and design of schemes and monitoring of the implementation and progress was lacking. Moreover, the governing bodies are stocked with government officers and political protégés. Aside from nominating one-third of the members from the government, most states have also appointed government officers to the one-third quota of employers as well, making these boards a typical government entity instead of an independent tripartite body.

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Posted By : Nanda Koijam on Fri, 29 Dec 2017
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