"This is too much. This is exploitation of the poor," a "shocked" Supreme Court today told the government when it said it has set up a committee to fix a timeline to comply with its directions on a matter relating to the welfare of construction workers.
"Is this the attitude of the Government of India towards poor people," it asked the counsel appearing for the Centre while expressing anguish over the submission.
"For fixing a timeline, you have set up a committee? What is this going on? According to us, you are sitting on (Rupees) 20,000 crore to 25,000 crore. Is this the attitude of the Government of India towards poor people of the country," a bench, comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, said.
"This is too much. This is exploitation of the poor," the bench said while asking the government what it has done with the huge amount of money meant for the welfare of construction workers. Incidentally, the strong observations of the top court came on the International Labour Day.
The top court also directed the Secretary of Ministry of Labour to remain present before it on May 7 to explain what was happening regarding the implementation of its order and two laws enacted by Parliament on the matter.
When the counsel representing some states told the bench that they have complied with the directions passed by the top court, the bench shot back, "what have you done except buying washing machines and laptops".
"This is shocking. Is this a joke? These (construction workers) are people who have no education, no money and builders are exploiting them and the Government of India is saying that they will not do anything," an angry bench observed.
Earlier, an affidavit filed in the court by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had said that a chunk of funds meant for construction workers' welfare had been spent to buy laptops and washing machines and less than ten per cent was spent for the actual purpose.
The court had on March 19 asked the Centre to frame a model scheme before September 30 to address the issues of education, health, social security and pension for construction workers.
It had said that more than Rs 37,400 crore had been collected for the benefit of these workers, but ostensibly only about Rs 9,500 crores was utilised for their benefit.
It had also questioned why millions of construction workers across the country were being denied the benefit of remaining Rs 28,000 crore.
The top court had also directed the state governments and union territories to constitute an expert committee and bring out statutory rules within six months.
It had said that its directions given from time to time for implementation of two laws have been "flouted with impunity".
These laws were the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996, (Cess Act).