SC summons labour secretary over non-use of workers welfare cess

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday directed the union labour secretary to be present in the court on September 11 as it expressed its displeasure over the ministry’s failure to place before it the action plan for the utilisation of Rs. 27,000 crores collected under the construction workers welfare cess act.

“The attitude of the ministry of labour can hardly be appreciated particularly when the amount is Rs. 27,000 crore, the matter is being taken in a casual manner by the Union of India,” said the social justice bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit.

Expressing its displeasure in no uncertain terms over the ministry’s failure to present the action plan for the utilisation of the sum collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996, as directed on August 21, the court said: “Therefore we have no option but to require the presence of the labour secretary” on next Friday.

Asking the officials to be present along with the action plan, the court referred to its August 21 order wherein it had said that senior counsel Yashank Adhyaru, appearing for the central government, would discuss the matter with the labour secretary and “inform us what is proposed to be done with the amount collected”.

In the last hearing of the matter, the court had had said: “We are extremely distressed on going through the affidavits filed which indicate that the state governments/union territories have no clue what to do with the thousands of crores that have been collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.”

While asking the labour secretary to be present with the action plan for the utilisation of Rs. 27,000 crores and more money that might have been collected since this amount was calculated, the court permitted amicus curiae, senior counsel Vikek Tankha to submit their action plan which they had offered to place before the court.

At the outset of the hearing, Adhyaru told the court that he did try to reach the ministry officials to know their response but drew a blank and all he knows that something is being done, but is unable to say it on record.

The court brushed aside Adhyaru’s repeated pleas that he may be given a week’s time to get the details and till then summoning of the labour secretary be put on hold.

The Delhi government’s plea to offer some explanation to the money spent by it on the advertisements from the welfare cess was not allowed.

The court had by its August 21 order had asked the Delhi government put back the money it had used from the cess for advertisements.

The court by its August 21 order had said: “We make it clear that the expenditure incurred by some of the state governments/union territories, particularly NCT of Delhi on advertisements with the amount collected is not at all appropriate and the amount that has been spent by the NCT of Delhi and other union territories and states on advertisements should be returned to the accounts of the construction workers.”

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