The West Bengal government has removed Rs 1,400 crore from the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund and transferred it to the treasury. The move was highly criticised by workers’ unions in a meeting of the Workers’ Welfare Board. The board or the union did not receive any intimation before the state government removed this money from the State Bank of India and transferred it to its coffers.
Workers’ unions have said that this move was made by the government right before the announcement of the state budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, to show that its coffers were not empty. An official of the Labour Department told Bengali daily Ganashakti, “The government has withdrawn Rs 1,400 crore from the account in the State Bank of India and transferred it to the treasury. The state government will pay interest for this money. The Labour Department can take this money if they need it.” According to an official of the Labour Department, this transfer was done by the department on the orders by the state government, without consulting the Welfare Board.
However, the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board was kept in the dark, and the stakeholders had no knowledge about this transfer until a meeting was held, in which they expressed their anger. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader Debanjan Chakraborty, who was present at this meeting, told NewsClick, “In a meeting that was held in the new secretariat building a month ago, the state government tried to coerce the members of the board to support the government’s idea of transferring the money to the treasury. However, this did not work, and the board did not grant the permission. However, despite that, the government has transferred the money. We do not know how the government could do this without permission from the board.” He added that in the most recent meeting of the board, it was decided that a letter will be given to the state government, stating clearly that the Welfare Board did not permit this transfer, and the amount should be given back to the board along with the interest.
The Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund was started by the former Left Front government in the state in 2003. One per cent cess is levied on construction work costing more than Rs 10 lakh, and this amount goes to the welfare fund. The Union government has passed this act in 1996, which states, “There shall be levied and collected a cess for the purposes of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (27 of 1996), at such rate not exceeding two per cent. But not less than one per cent of the cost of construction incurred by an employer, as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, from time to time specify.”
The act was implemented in West Bengal in 2003, and before the transfer of Rs 1,400 by the government, the fund had Rs 2,718 crore. This money from the fund is used for various purposes, like medical care for the workers, provision of pensions, and other things. Currently, around 3,000 workers receive monthly pensions from the fund. The board has said that in the coming months, as more people register under the scheme and the number of pensioners increases, the board will require money to pay them. However, the government has taken that money away, and now the Labour Department will need permission from the finance department to take this money back.
Chakraborty said the state government is not ready to return the money to the board, despite protests from the board and the stakeholders.
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