Public hearings at Haiderpur, Delhi, as a part of Social audit

The social audit can be explained as the process of monitoring and evaluation of the government initiatives or schemes for the society to examine the quality of work done on the ground. The communities have rights to get involved in the audit process in order to verify the quality of works done and to keep a track if benefits have reached to the beneficiaries or not.

A transparency in the entire process needs to be bought and hence a way out needs to be secured for vulnerable communities, when extractive industries affect the communities due to their exploiting nature. As per World Bank, about 3.5 billion people live in countries rich in oil, gas or minerals. With good governance and transparent management, the revenues from extractive industries can have an impact on reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, while respecting community needs and the environment. The industries such as captive power plant, aluminum plant, sponge iron plant and mining, produce enormous pollution apart from generating huge revenues. The social audit can be used as a tool in case the industries or mining companies are violating the norms.

Concerned about the safety, occupational health and welfare measures of workers in the unorganized sector, the National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labor (NCC-CL), a non-registered committee, appealed against the non-implementation of the Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996 in an ongoing PIL (WP civil NO. 318 of 2006).

It may be relevant here to recall that for the safety, welfare and justice of workers, the parliament enacted two laws – Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996 (The BOCW Act) and Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 (The CESS Act).

Building and Other Construction Workers, Act 1996 – This Act is primarily aimed to provide better working conditions for the workers involved in building and other construction works. The Act stipulates to provide safety, health and welfare measures and for other matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is an effort to address the condition of workers during and after the works. It is enacted to provide social and economic justice.

The Building and Other Construction Workers’ Workers Cess Act, 1996 – The Welfare Board of building and construction workers is collecting Cess on the construction cost from employer under this Act of 1996 and the fund is utilized for the welfare of laborers.

On 19 March 2018, Hon’ble Supreme Court delivered a judgement directed the Ministry of Labor and Employment department to constitute a sub-committee to conduct social audit of the BOCW welfare board. The sub-committee conducted a meeting on 8th August, 2018 in the office of Director General Labor Welfare (DGLB). In this meeting, a framework on the guidelines for conducting audits was prepared. The final draft has to be prepared by Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) with the reference of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

The building and construction activities, considered as unorganized sector, engages largest numbers of workers which may include even children. Since many decades, the workers have been deprived of social and economic benefits, as enshrined in the related enactments. Neither Central Government nor the Union Territory Administration has effectively implemented acts.

The sub-committee as directed by the apex court in its judgement, was constituted in Delhi for conducting social audits. Thus, NCC-CL in collaboration with other civil society organizations was assigned to conduct social audits in Delhi, as a pilot, so that the complete process of conducting social audit can be implemented in a more practical manner across various states.

Author – Sunil Hembram