New Delhi: “Where has a whopping amount of Rs 20,000 crore, meant for workers' welfare, gone?” “Spent on tea parties or vacation of officials?” Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) doesn't know, wondered the Supreme Court.
These posers were put to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) by the Supreme Court which was left wondering as to where this huge amount of money has gone. The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO 'National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour' which has alleged that the statutory cess levied from real estate firms for the welfare of construction workers was not being utilised properly as there was no mechanism to identify the beneficiaries and extending the benefits to them.
The apex court's remarks came after it perused an affidavit and a report filed by the CAG in the matter, as it termed the facts mentioned in them as ‘quite startling’.
“Even the CAG does not know where is the money. It is about Rs 20,000 crore," a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed. "Where is this money going? Has it gone in a tea party or for vacation of officials? You have to find it out," the bench directed the CAG.
The court said that the first step that needed to be taken was to ascertain from each states and union territories the amount collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996 since it was enacted in 1996 till March 31 2017.
"The amount so collected will be intimated to the office of the CAG," it said, adding, "Similarly, the amount collected over the years and which has been transferred to the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Board should also be indicated to the office of the CAG as on March 31, 2017."
It said if there was any amount, which has been collected but not yet transferred to the board, shall be transferred within a period of six weeks with intimation to the CAG. The bench has asked the CAG to furnish the details before it and has fixed the matter for hearing on August 2.
During the hearing, the principal legal adviser of CAG, who was present in the court, said the money was with the states and a direction could be given to audit the accounts of Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board.
To this, the bench asked, "What if they have used the money in a tea party?" "You find out how much money has been received, what was transferred (to the welfare boards) and how they have spent it," the bench said.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, representing the Centre, told the apex court that states have consolidated account and it could be easily known as to how much they have received from cess.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who was appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that a direction should also be given to audit the accounts of these welfare boards. The CAG had earlier told the court that it would file an affidavit giving the latest status with regard to the audit of the funds meant for welfare of construction workers.
The court had in 2015 expressed displeasure over the non-utilisation of a whopping Rs 26,000 crore by the Centre and various states, saying it cannot get worse than that. It had also said it was ‘ridiculous’ that the money meant for these workers was spent on the 'babus' and advertisements. The court had also asked the Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments to "file their submissions on affidavits with regard to collection and utilisation of the amounts and proposals for utilisation within two weeks".
The order was passed after certain facts were brought to the court's notice, including that Haryana had over the years collected Rs 1314.86 crore under the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act but disbursed only Rs 52 crore and even the details of which were unavailable.
An amicus curiae, who was assisting the court, had said that Rajasthan had collected Rs 588.36 crore but disbursed only Rs 59.45 crore, the details of which were also not available....