Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya has recently announced that the Central Government is planning to extend benefits under the Employee's State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) and Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) for construction workers.
However, according to the minister, states are not utilising funds even after collecting huge amount towards cess from the construction sector. The money is deposited in the state while construction workers remained neglected and exploited, he reportedly said. While the states already have Rs 27,886 crore with them from the construction sector cess, only Rs 5,800 crore have been spent by the states. As per reports, this means that Rs 22,086 crore remain unspent and lies in the treasuries of the state governments. This funds should be judiciously spent for the welfare of the construction workers allocated under the BOCW (Building and Other Construction Workers Act) of 1996, according to the minister.
For example, the Odisha Government has Rs 940 crore deposits from the construction sector cess, the state has so far spent only Rs 120 crore. There is also a concern over ‘diversion’ of the welfare funds meant for the construction workers.
In some states, it is seen that funds are utilised otherwise and not for the construction workers who have rights over the cess amount, according to Dattatreya, who further reportedly added that although there is a clear guideline for expenditure of the funds, some states are giving bi-cycles to workers which is not in the priority list.
The cess amount for construction workers should be utilised under four heads – health, education, skill development and social security including pension. However, it is known that this is not happening in many states. Further, the Supreme Court has also raised a question on unspent funds collected as cess in construction sector.
As the construction sector generates maximum employment, the Centre has been taking steps to ensure protection of workers rights. The minister reportedly added that there are 44 laws for protection of the labourers, and these should be implemented properly.