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State govt to push for workers’ reforms

Business

The Maharashtra Labour Ministry is getting its act together to collect 1% cess from all construction agencies for the welfare of construction workers under the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. According to a rough estimate, the state can collect around Rs1000 crore per annum which could be used for the betterment of the labourers. So far the agency has collected only Rs99 lakh – from only one company, Hindustan Construction Company.

The Act was passed in Parliament way back in 1996. It is only on on April 16, 2008,  that the Maharashtra government has decided to implement it. Under the Act, all states were asked to form a welfare board for building and construction workers that will look into the registration of labour, their medical, insurance, and working conditions. They were advised to collect 1-2% cess from the developers undertaking projects of Rs10 lakh and above and spend that money towards workers’ welfare schemes. It demanded that the welfare board have representatives from government, labour, builders, and contractors.

The state, on its part, has just begun the process of forming the board. Then there is the registration of over 20 lakh labourers. And the 1% cess has yet to be collected.

The newly-appointed Maharashtra Labour minister Nawab Mallik said he has asked his department to expedite the process of forming the welfare board. “I have asked all concerned government departments to issue a government resolution in this regard and start collecting 1% cess from various construction agencies.” He added that government agencies will deduct cess before clearing bills for the works which are undertaken by them. Other private developers have to pay cess amount before seeking commencement certificate for their projects.

The Supreme Court while hearing a petition on the same issue this month (January 13, 2009) has asked the state governments to submit a compliance report by early May on the implementation of laws for constitution of welfare boards to monitor social security schemes meant for building and construction workers. The counsel for the NGO called National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labourers (NCCCL) said the entire construction industry which employs about two crore workers on daily basis still work in an unorganised manner. The workers are mainly migrants and live and work in inhuman conditions, risking their lives and limbs. The counsel argued for adequate investment, mainly in terms of job security, safety, proper working conditions and medical facilities.

NCCCL coordinator Subhash Bhatnagar said although the Act was passed 12 years ago, only 10 states have implemented it. Many have not even started collecting the cess. “Delhi, which has so much construction work going on, has collected only Rs175 crore in two years,” he added.

Another Maharashtra-based NGO Nirman Mazdoor Sangathan’s president Madhukant Pathariya, also part of the movement, said, “Construction work is going on at more than 3500 sites in Maharashtra. But builders have not been sent notices to pay the cess amount. It’s a huge loss to the government exchequer. Much of the money can be used for the betterment of labourers.”

Construction Week tried to discuss the issue with some builders and developers, but comments were not forthcoming.

“As the matter is sub-judice, we won’t like to comment,” a leading builder said, requesting anonymity. Another builder said, “We are doing more than any other state, like providing education to children at construction sites. We also run crèches at our construction sites.”

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