Over a decade has passed since Deve Gowda’s United Front government legislated an elaborate social security law for India’s estimated 30 million construction workers.
But, the 1996 law means nothing for the estimated 20 lakh-and-growing workers, mostly migrants, who are building roads, flyovers and skyscrapers across Maharashtra's cities since the state government has still not implemented the act.
So there is no city Worker’s Welfare Fund housing the 1-2 per cent cess paid up by the contractor/builder that could help the victims of the Carter Road carnage with immediate medical grants.
A Welfare Board has not yet been constituted, so there is no legal aid for them. The contractor who employed these families from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka hasn’t registered their details with specially set up authorities.
“So it is possible the criminal trial may fall apart since the complainants are migrants who will soon move on in search of fresh work,” says Mini Matthew, a labour lawyer.
Mantralaya’s defence said, "We are still finalizing the rules (to implement the law)," Joint Secretary (Labour) Manohar Borkar told HT.
"They have been sent for printing. We will issue them for feedback, and then notify them. Implementation and setting up of workers welfare boards will follow."
Mumbai groups like the Nirman Mazdoor Sangathana which have been lobbying incessantly for the act to become a reality say the delays are deliberate. Aarti Salve said, "The building industry has close links with Maharashtra’s politicians. Several politicians themselves are builders. They are stalling the act.”
Over nine years have passed since a file containing a 3 member-committee’s recommended rules arrived in the department. The state’s been forced to move only after a Supreme Court notice landed on its desk this August.
The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the National Campaign Committee for Construction Labourers (NCCCL) over the non-implementation of the act in several states including Maharashtra.
NCCCL’s Delhi-based Coordinator Subhash Bhatnagar ascribes the non-implementation to “the general apathy of state and society towards these workers who help build our cities.”
Bhatnagar told HT: “Even in states like Delhi, implementation is only on paper. For example, less than 1000 workers have been registered by employers with the Workers Welfare Board.”
A senior official in the Labour Commisionerate said: “The 10 year delay has entailed a loss of crores of revenue to the exchequer (from the cess) and denial of welfare provisions to construction workers.”
Salve and groups like hers are planning to rally about the issue at Azad Maidan on November 28: “We want to ensure the law makes the state’s winter assembly agenda.”