The Supreme Court today stressed the need for involvement of the civil society for effective management of the laws for welfare of construction workers and asked the Centre to take assistance from NGOs concerned with their welfare. A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta was apprised by Secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment, who appeared before it following an earlier order, that a national portal for the benefit of construction workers was being set up which could be used by NGOs for this purpose. The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO, National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour, alleging that the statutory cess levied on real estate firms for the welfare of construction workers was not being utilised properly as there was no mechanism to identify the beneficiaries for extending the benefits. "The entire matter should be looked at in a positive and constructive manner by the Government so that the benefits can be passed on to the construction workers who are the real beneficiaries of the statute," the bench said. M Sathiyavathy, Secretary with Ministry of Labour and Employment, told the court that she will call a meeting of the Monitoring Committee, comprising the labour secretaries of all states and union territories, within a month. The bench also asked senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, counsel for the petitioner NGO and advocate Anitha Shenoy, counsel for National Legal Services Authority, to attend the Monitoring Committee meeting. "We expect full cooperation from all the participants to ensure that justice is done to the construction workers," the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing on January 17 next year. Sathiyavathy told the court that a Monitoring Committee was set up in 2015 for effective implementation of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. The Secretary also said that the number of construction workers registered has increased to about 2.8 crore from the earlier 2.15 crore. "The collection of cess under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 has increased from about Rs 25,477 crore to about Rs 37,482 crore," Sathiyavathy told the court. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had earlier in an affidavit told the court the funds meant for construction workers' welfare were being spent to buy laptops and washing machines. Asserting that there should be no further exploitation of construction workers by the states or welfare boards, the top court observed that the CAG has revealed a "shocking state of affairs" with regard to the utilisation of the cess collected under the Act. The court noted that laptops and washing machines were bought out of a whopping Rs 29,000 crore fund meant for the welfare of construction workers and less than ten per cent spent on the actual purpose. Terming this as a "shocking" and "extremely distressing" state of affairs, the Supreme Court had said that the funds, collected by the government through a cess under the construction workers law, were being "frittered away" and diverted, instead of being spent on welfare of beneficiaries.
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