New Delhi, Sep 11 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday took exception to the central scheme that asks construction workers to contribute 50 percent of the amount for their pensions upon completing 60 years of age under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.
“Don’t make the beneficiaries (of the pension scheme) contribute to the scheme.. the moment you do it, they are dissuaded to keep away,” said the social justice bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit.
“Our idea is that a worker is not made to contribute to the pension scheme. That is the easiest way to dissuade the worker to keep away from the scheme,” said Justice Lalit, brushing aside all explanations offered by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh appearing for the central government.
Admitting that there was a “complete failure” on the part of the government in utilising the fund collected for the welfare of the construction workers as mandated under the 1996 law, Singh said that “some where a beginning” has to be made.
“Where should be the beginning (made) after complete failure to implement the scheme for the benefits of the construction workers,” he said, inviting a jibe from Justice Lalit who said: “Wisdom of implementing the act has come after 11 years.”
Singh shifted the blame on the state governments for not responding to the central government’s directions in the past.
Trying to address the court’s queries, Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal said that one of the impedements in the implementation of the provision of 1996 law was that construction workers did not have an identity card. He said that same is being removed by issuing them portable Universal Access Number (UAN) that will have their bank account number and all the benefits would get channelized.
Issuance of UAN would be competed in the current financial year, he said.
While asking Aggarwal to put all that he had said in an affidavit, the court also asked him to respond to two identical orders passed by it on January 18, 2010 and December 12, 2014, asking that the construction workers working for contractors executing government projects should get the benefits of the schemes under the 1996 Act.
Referring to the two orders, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves appearing for the petitioner National Campaign Committee of Construction Labourers said that 60 percent of the construction workers were engaged in government contracts.
He also disputed the figures of 1.5 crore registered construction workers saying that in fact, there were about five crore construction workers.
The court asked the labour secretary to address the suggestions given by the amicus curiae Vivek Tankha for the utilisation of corpus of Rs. 21,000 crore.
The pension scheme is one of the several welfare measure for the utilisation of Rs.21,000 crores collected under the 1996 act. The other welfare measures include providing construction workers with low cost houses, scholarship and tuition fee of their children and maternity benefits to the women construction workers.