NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Friday 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.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde 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," the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, asked Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan.
Divan told the bench that she would take instruction on the issue and get back to the court.
The issue cropped up before the apex court which was hearing an application filed by Madhya Pradesh 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 counsel appearing for Madhya Pradesh told the bench that the state needed money as revenue flow has come down to 50 per cent due to the pandemic.
He 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 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.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the counsel appearing for the petitioner opposed the plea filed by Madhya Pradesh.
The bench asked the state's counsel as to why they want to "withdraw Rs 1,000 crore" from the fund for other purpose.
"We collect this amount every year and distribute it every year," the lawyer said, adding that many migrants workers have come to Madhya Pradesh due to COVID-19 pandemic and the state cannot pay them since they are not registered.
"Why don't you register them? You identify those whom you want to give benefit. Once you will identify them then you can give them the benefit," the bench said.
The state's counsel said that state can register only those workers who are involved in building and construction works as the fund under the 1996 law is meant for them only.
The bench, while asking Divan about whether such an Ordinance can be issued to use the funds collected for other workers also, said that government can put a condition that those who would withdraw money from the fund would return it within a time period.
"You (Centre) have to be proactive," the bench said.
"Madhavi Divan, Additional Solicitor General, appearing on behalf of the Union of India seeks some time to get instructions. List the matter after two weeks," it said.