A case of astonishing financial irregularity in the Union Labour Ministry has come to fore. The worst part of the irregularity is that the funds meant for the welfare of construction workers have been diverted to purchases of articles and equipment which has nothing to do with the welfare of construction workers. It is a brazen act of depriving the workers of the facilities which Government has provided them to ameliorate their lot. A PIL filed by NGO, National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour, alleged that the statutory cess levied on real estate firms for the welfare of construction workers was not being utilised properly as there was no mechanism to identify the beneficiaries for extending the benefits. The cess charged under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 had grown to hefty 29,000 crore rupees and this was to be spent on the welfare of the construction workers. The Court, while hearing the PIL found that not even 10 per cent of this amount was spent for the purpose for which it has been raised and instead the amount has been siphoned off for purchase of laptops and washing machines. The Apex Court expressed its astonishment on this blatant violation of rules and the clauses of the Act under discussion. What actually the Supreme Court has found is that the amount has been frittered away.
This is a case of abuse and misuse of funds and is a running commentary on the hidden intensions of those who are at the helm of affairs. Actually this irregularity of considerable proportions was pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is a mystery why the senior officers in the Ministry have not detected the irregularity and made efforts of checking it at the very beginning. Normally, no Government encourages diverting of funds from one head to another head. And even when it happens, there is at least some coordination between the head to which it is diverted and the source. But in the present case what is the link between the welfare of the construction workers and laptops, one fails to understand.
The Supreme Court has rightly felt distressed on this blatant violation of the rights of workers. It has ordered the Secretary Ministry of Labour to be present in the court on the day of next hearing to explain why this diversion of funds took place and what the justification was for doing so. The Court has also directed that no such diversion shall be made in future. Normally this does not happen in the Central Government Ministries and in a sense this is a very peculiar and unique case. As such thorough probe into the case is called for. We are highly satisfied with the Apex Court taking a serious note of this development. Quite obviously, there have been ulterior motives for this bravado. Moreover, wilful misuse of funds that were meant for the welfare of the poor people is blatant violation of human rights of these people. They have a right to improved standard of life; their children have the right to health and education and above all they have the right to food and basic amenities. Diverting the funds meant for these purposes is violation of their human rights. Who is answerable for that? A probe into the episode is unavoidable and they have a right to know where the money meant for their welfare has gone and why.