3 crore construction labourers are now ‘consumers’

NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has categorised over 2.8 crore registered construction workers as ‘consumers’ enabling them to move consumer forums if any government denied them statutory benefits promised under welfare schemes implemented with the funds collected as ‘cess’ from builders.
Under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996, each state was mandated to set up Welfare Boards which are to provide registered construction workers and their dependants immediate assistance under various heads — in case of accident, pension to over 60 year-olds, loans and advances for construction of house, premium for group insurance scheme for workers, financial assistance for education of their children, medical expenses for treatment of major ailments, maternity benefit to female workers, and provision and improvement of other welfare measures and facilities as prescribed.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said, “the registered workers are clearly beneficiaries of the service provided by the welfare board in a statutory capacity.” As of today, the states and Union government have collected nearly Rs 40,000 crore as cess from builders but have spent meagre percentage on welfare of registered construction workers.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Chandrachud said,“As a matter of interpretation, the provisions contained in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 must be construed in a purposive manner. Parliament has provided a salutary remedy to consumers of both goods and services. Public authorities, such as the appellants who have been constituted under an enactment of Parliament, are entrusted with a solemn duty of providing welfare services to registered workers.”
“The workers who are registered with the Board make contributions on the basis of which they are entitled to avail of the services provided in terms of the schemes notified by the Board. Public accountability is a significant consideration which underlies the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1986. The evolution of jurisprudence in relation to the enactment reflects the need to ensure a sense of public accountability by allowing consumers a redressal in the context of the discharge of non-sovereign functions which are not rendered free of charge. This test is duly met in the present case.,” the bench said.

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