New Delhi: The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Friday if it could issue an ordinance allocating funds collected under the welfare schemes for construction workers to be used for other workers during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the return to many migrant workers to their native states.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde noted that other workers are equally poor and the Centre can take proactive action to address this issue.
The bench asked Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, why can’t the Centre issue an ordinance on this issue so that the funds meant for construction workers could be used for other workers too.
The Centre’s counsel submitted before the bench that she will revert back after taking instructions on the matter.
The top court made the observation while hearing an application filed by the Madhya Pradesh government to withdraw Rs 1,000 crore from the Rs 1,985 crore collected for the welfare of construction workers.
The state government’s counsel submitted that the funds were needed as the revenues of the state have been reduced drastically due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the amount collected under the welfare scheme is with the state welfare board.
The state’s counsel said the money will be returned to the state welfare board with interest.
The application was filed in a matter where a plea was moved in the top court in 2006 seeking implementation of two laws connected to the welfare of construction workers in the country.
The counsel for the petitioner contested the argument submitted by the state government. The two laws are — Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996 (Cess Act).
The state government’s counsel submitted that many migrant workers have come back to the state due to the pandemic and they are not registered with the government, therefore the state cannot pay them.
The bench queried as to what is the hurdle in registering them and after registration, the government can sort out who all are eligible for the benefits. The state’s counsel said they can only register them under the 1996 law, which is meant for construction works.
The bench asked the Centre’s counsel to get instructions on this issue and listed the matter for further hearing after two weeks.