SC slams states, UTs for not implementing construction workers’ rights

New Delhi, (IANS): The Supreme Court on Monday slammed the state governments and union territory administrations for their antipathy towards the statutory rights of the construction workers who not only assist in building infrastructure but the nation also.

“It must be appreciated that construction workers do not assist only in building infrastructure, but they also assist in building the nation, in their own small way”, said the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta in their judgment.

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“Once that realization dawns upon those required to implement the BOCW Act and the Cess Act, perhaps due respect will be shown to Article 21 of the Constitution and to Parliamentary statutes,” said Justice Lokur in the judgment which was pronounced by Justice Gupta.

The judgment came on a public interest plea by the National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL) – a body comprising registered trade unions concerned with the rights of workers in the unorganized sector including construction workers, especially in areas of safety, occupational health and welfare measures.

It had sought the enforcing of the the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.

Flaying the governments, Justice Lokur, in the judgment, said that no state government and union territory administration “seems willing to fully adhere to and abide by (or is perhaps even capable of fully adhering to and abiding by)” theses two laws.

Appreciating that the task before the States and UTs administration to implement the law enacted by Parliament for the benefit and welfare of a vulnerable section of society is enormous, the court said that “the state might well be unable to live up to the expectations of Parliament unless there is a strong will to bring about a positive change”.

“State apathy in a situation such as this virtually amounts to exploitation of the construction workers, and if the state turns exploitative, there is little hope for vulnerable sections of society,” it said.

Issuing series of specific and general directions to Union Labour and Employment Ministry and the States and UTS, the court noted the directions passed by it from time to time have been “flouted with impunity” and similarly multiple directions issued by the Centre were “disregarded” by the states and UT administrations.

It hoped that “the gravity of the situation in the constitutional and federal context, the human rights and social justice context will be realized by someone, somewhere and at some time.”

On the quantum of moneyA that has been collected by way of cess, the court referred to the National Legal Services Authority’s (NALSA) December 14, 2016 affidavit which estimated that the “amount of cess that ought to have been collected is in the region of about Rs. 70,000 crore”.

Describing as “shocking” that even the CAG “does not have all the figures and whatever figures are available, may not be reliable”, the court said: “If this constitutional body does not have the required and accurate information, there is undoubtedly a financial mess in this area and this chaos has been existing since 1996.

“The only victims of this extremely unfortunate state of affairs and official apathy are construction workers who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities.”

The court directed the listing of the matter on May 1 to ascertain whether timelines have been fixed by the authorities concerned for compliance of the directions.