The Supreme Court, on October 10, 2018, came down heavily on Maharashtra’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) for trying to ‘shrug off’ its responsibility, in ensuring compliance of an Act meant for the welfare of building and construction workers in Mumbai.
A bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said an affidavit proposed to be filed by SRA was ‘extremely vague’ and the Authority, without trying to ‘pass on the buck’ to builders and contractors, should ensure compliance of the provisions of the Act. Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, representing the Maharashtra government, told the court that there were around 339 projects under the SRA but they have not received data from the Authority, regarding registration of workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.
“This (non-registration of workers) is exploitation and you (SRA) are saying that ‘yes I know it is exploitation but I cannot do anything, because I have no power’,” the bench said. “SRA is much more than a planning agency. You are virtually the implementing authority,” the court said, adding, “Why cannot you issue notice to the builders and contractors, saying how many workers are employed with them and how many of them have not been registered? Please do not shrug off your responsibilities. At what cost you are shrugging off your responsibilities? These are poor people. Tell you CEO that you have a job to do,” the court said.
The state government also told the bench that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has 149 ongoing projects in Mumbai and they have a substantial chunk of land there. The state told the bench that there were around 53,000 construction and building workers in Mumbai and registration process of those, who have not been registered yet, was going on. The bench directed the chief executive officer of SRA to take immediate steps in this regard and file a compliance report, within three weeks. It also issued notice to the MHADA, asking it to comply with the directions passed by the court and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks.
The apex court had said it was ‘extremely unfortunate’ that around 5,000 construction workers in Mumbai were not registered under the Act and directed the Maharashtra government to take action against builders and contractors in this regard. The issue of utilisation of cess collected under the 1996 Act in Maharashtra had cropped up, when the bench was hearing a matter related to framing of solid waste management policy by the states. The issue of waste management had cropped up when the top court was dealing with a tragic incident in 2015, in which it had taken cognisance of the death of a seven-year-old boy due to dengue in Delhi. The victim was allegedly denied treatment by five private hospitals and his distraught parents had subsequently committed suicide.