Government collected Cr. 32, 632 in construction workers cess, spent just Cr.7516

The lives of those who build the nation find little concern.

Credit : The Hindu

- Snehal Warekar

Amid the death toll of labours at working site and mishaps fatalities are on the rise, there has allegedly been no action towards ensuring their safety so far. Ironically, the government has collected Rs. 32,632 crore in Cess in a span of 10 years for Labour welfare, of which, only Rs. 7,516 crore have been spent till 31.03.2017,”  says the report published by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. 

The demand to properly utilize the Cess Funds is also highlighted in the report. According to the 28th report of the Standing Committee on Labour, the utilisation of Cess has been very poor as there was no foolproof system of collection and utilisation developed by the state governments.

Recently, the Center for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the trade union affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), held a press conference in Pune regarding the deaths of the workers and their family members in the Kondhwa and Sinhgad compound wall incidents. 

“The Government has introduced the BOCW (Building and Other Construction Workers) act 1996 to implement the schemes for the welfare and safety of the workers in the unorganized sector. But the death incidents at construction sites have not reduced,” says Ajit Abhyankar, the president of the Construction Workers’ Union, Pune District.  He further adds, “In fact, the numbers have increased from 2012, where we have seen fatalities of 51 workers or their family members. In most of the cases, a nexus of the builders, administration and political leaders is behind it. Even after the Supreme Court directions, the government hasn’t moved in this regard.”

The death toll of the construction workers on the sites is increasing rapidly. But experts fear that it will grab the attention only when the figures of the deaths are catastrophic. In the conference, the organization put forth some demands and allegations regarding the negligence over the safety of the construction workers. 

Building and other construction workers are one of the most numerous and vulnerable segments of the unorganized labour in India. The work is also characterized by its casual nature, the temporary relationship between employer and employee, uncertain working hours, lack of basic amenities and inadequacy of welfare facilities.

The Center for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has firmly said that if the demands are not seriously taken into consideration, the worker's unions will take a political stand over it and will protest against the government. “The government should declare that the builder or developer should take the legal and civil responsibility in any casualty like Kondhwa and in other cases. In these incidents, the Government and labour ministry should appoint a special public prosecutor to give justice to the workers,” reads the letter of demands issued by CITU. The letter further demands that the mandatory registration of the migrated workers should be done by the labour commissioner. Without registration, no worker should be employed by the builders. The builder should look after the safe accommodation of migrated as well as the local workers if the stay at the site is needed.

CITU also pushes its demands that the registration of the workers should come under the legal responsibility of the builder, developer and the owner. The Workers’ Welfare board should take responsibility to compensate the workers. If the worker accidentally dies at the workplace while working, the insurance of 20 lakhs should be given as compensation without any condition of the registration. And if the worker gets injured, he should get proportionate compensation.

The findings in another survey by the British Safety Council highlighted the staff crunch in the government departments where India has only one Inspector appointed for every 500 factories. 

The report further mentioned that “Basic objective of the Act has also been defeated as the construction workers have not benefited by the Cess funds.” 

The contribution of labourers remains unnoticed, the Supreme Court in one of its judgment stated that “Construction workers do not assist in building infrastructure alone, but they also assist in building the nation, in their own small way, once that realization dawns upon those required implementing the BOCW Act and the Cess Act, perhaps due respect will be shown to Article 21 of the Constitution and to Parliamentary statutes.”

The Supreme Court had also asked the CAG to undertake an audit. The report is still awaited. The Supreme Court had also passed instructions for healthy execution and implementation of the Act.

The safety of the workers is a major issue as around 48,000 people die at work in India every year according to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). The labour market of India primarily operates within the informal sector and is fraught with the most precarious of conditions. In India, only 20% of them are covered under the existing health and safety legal framework. 

Abhyankar further showed concerns regarding the staff working on the registration and implementation of the safety laws. He said, “To implement the laws and to register the construction workers, the department has no full-time officer and those who are working are contractual and temporary.”  

When asked about the allegations by CITU, Suhas Merchant, president of CREDAI-Pune Metro said, "Workers’ safety at construction sites is the subject of concern for CREDAI. Last year, CREDAI had arranged training workshops on-site safety and security for 750 site engineers and contractors.” He further adds, “This program will be given pace in the upcoming period. We are continuously making efforts to create awareness among CREDAI members about the training programs and safety audit of the site. We have also published the safety manuals and made sure that it would reach to every member.”


Snehal Warekar is an Intern with Indie Journal.