Plea for diversion of funds; SC asks MP to make state's construction workers board party

·3-min read

New Delhi, Jan 25 (PTI) The Supreme Court Monday directed the Madhya Pradesh government to make the state's Construction Workers Welfare Board a party to its plea seeking permission to withdraw Rs 1,000 crore from the funds of Rs 1,985 crore, lying with the Board, for using them in other welfare schemes.

The apex court, which initially wanted to know from the state government as to under which provision of law it wanted diversion of funds, asked it to implead the MP Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board as a party to the litigation.

“We have no legal way of diverting the funds. Does the government have some government securities or bonds? Maybe the fund can be invested in the Government securities instead of a nationalised bank and then it can be used by the government…,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said during the hearing conducted through video conferencing. The bench, which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was hearing an application filed by the Madhya Pradesh government seeking permission to withdraw Rs 1,000 crore from a total of Rs 1,985 crore collected under the welfare scheme for construction and building workers.

“The petitioner is directed to implead the State Welfare Board as party respondent. List the matter after two weeks,” it ordered.

During the hearing, the bench asked senior advocate A S Nadkarni, appearing for the state, as to under which provision it wanted to “access the fund” when the laws are very clear on procedures of using the funds.

“We need the funds for schemes for the benefit of the migrant workers,” Nadkarni said. Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, said if the fund is used for migrant workers then there may be a chance that they might have been registered as construction workers in some other states.

“These funds are specifically for vulnerable construction workers,” she said.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for an organization, said the Court had said that the money should be spent for the welfare of the workers and each construction worker was to get some cash transfer under the scheme.

“Who is in charge of this money now? Are they before us,” the bench asked.

On being told that the state's welfare board was the custodian of the funds, the bench asked the government to make the Board a party.

Earlier in September last year, the top court had asked the Centre as to why it cannot issue an Ordinance that funds collected under the welfare scheme meant for building and construction workers across the country be used for other workers as well during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It had said that other workers are equally poor and the Centre has to be proactive on this issue.

“Why don't you simply issue an Ordinance that during the COVID period, you can use it for construction workers and other workers also,” it had observed.

The counsel appearing for Madhya Pradesh had told the bench that the state needed money as revenue flow had come down to 50 per cent due to the pandemic.

He had said that amount collected under the scheme for construction and building workers is with the state welfare board.

”We pray for Rs 1,000 crore subject to whatever interest which the state welfare board will earn in 12 months. We will return the money to the state welfare board with interest,” the lawyer had said.

The application was filed in a matter in which a petition was moved in the apex court in 2006 seeking implementation of two laws -- the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996, (Cess Act) -- meant for welfare of construction workers across the country. PTI SJK ABA MNL RKS RKS