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Welfare cess on builders
- Workers' benefit to come for a price, warns industry

Calcutta, March 22: The government today announced that a builder employing 10 or more workers will have to pay 1 per cent of the project's construction cost to a board to be set up for their welfare.

Till a builder ' private or working jointly with the government ' pays the cess, the project plan will not be sanctioned, labour minister Mohammad Amin told the Assembly, laying down the West Bengal Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2004.

The bill concerned had been enacted in 1996, but the rules, which would be in effect from July 1, were spelt out today.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram had earlier imposed a 10 per cent service tax on the housing industry. The budget proposed the levy on 'construction of residential complexes having more than 12 residential houses or apartments, together with common areas and other appurtenances'.

Sections of the industry then predicted a price escalation of Rs 45-55 per square foot as a result of the tax.

Today, they said the cess would add to the customer's burden. Kumar Shankar Bagchi, the managing director of Bengal Peerless Housing Development, which is involved in several joint ventures with the state government, said the decision was 'unexpected'.

'The burden will ultimately be borne by the customer, who will have to pay a higher price,' Bagchi said.

Hari Prasad Sharma, the director of Fort Project, felt the government should have exempted flats for lower and middle-income groups. 'Customers of the high income group can afford to pay the increased price but for LIG and MIG customers, the burden will be too much.'

Amin said the workers' welfare board will be set up soon and a fund will be created with the money from the builders for the welfare of construction workers.

The government will issue identity cards to about 5 lakh construction workers across Bengal who, the minister said, would benefit from the rules in case of accidents or death and in the form of pension. Provisions for loans and advances for house building, medical expenses for treatment of major ailments and maternity leave will be drawn up.

Amin said according to the new rules, no one under the age of 18 shall be employed or deployed at any construction site. 'Moreover, no worker will normally be allowed to work over nine hours a day or 48 hours a week. Every worker shall be allowed a day's rest every week.' If someone is made to work above normal hours, over-time shall be paid at double the rate of wages.

Every worker who is below 60 and has completed 90 days of work shall be eligible to be a beneficiary. After paying Rs 20 as registration fee, Amin said, a beneficiary will have to make a monthly contribution of Rs 20.

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