NREGA Wage Rates See Meagre Increase, Activists Raise Concern
The wage rates for NREGA workers for the fiscal year 2022-23 were notified on Monday, March 28. According to activists, the notification was released too late, with only three days left until the end of the previous fiscal year, preventing any discussion or debate regarding the wage rates and their adequacy.
"This is a continuation of the government's assault on NREGA and has once again exposed the central government's lack of commitment to NREGA workers' rights," said a statement released by the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM) and People's Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) on Thursday, March 31.
The hike ranges from a meagre Rs 4 to a maximum of Rs 21 for various states and Union Territories (UTs). The workers of three states — Manipur, Mizoram & Tripura — will receive no hike at all. The average increase in the NREGA wage rate across the country is a deficient 4.25%.
"Whereas, Central Government employees and pensioners get a dearness allowance (DA), of 31%, costing Rs. 9,544.50 Cr to the exchequer each year. While the government revises DA twice a year and pays out thousands of crores for it, it systematically ignores NREGA workers," the statement said.
The statement pointed out that for 27 states and Union Territories, the NREGA wage rate is less than the corresponding minimum wage for agriculture. The difference is most significant in Karnataka (despite having the highest % increase in wage rate), where the NREGA wage rate is only 70% of the state minimum wage for agriculture.
This ratio is around 70% for several states, such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar & Himachal Pradesh. The total average difference between NREGA wage rates and the minimum wage rate for the country comes out to be around 20%.
"At a time when the country is going through the worst employment crisis in decades, this meagre hike in NREGA wages is nothing less than a much-touted "surgical strike" on the poor," the statement said. It added that in the current scenario in the country, because of the pandemic, "MGNREGA has been a lifeline for the rural workers—one that provides work and cash—in times of need and distress.
It is ironic that while the country is traversing through a path of economic recovery, rural wages have remained stagnant in the same period. And by severe rationing of funds, the state is systematically undermining the programme."
Despite recommendations from government-appointed committees to link NREGA wages with state minimum wages (by Mahendra Dev Committee) and to index the wage rate to Consumer Price Index - Rural Labourers (CPI-RL) instead of Consumer Price Index – Agricultural Labourers (CPI-AL) (by Nagesh Singh Committee), or Rs 375 per day as recommended by the Anoop Satpathy Committee, the government has not implemented these recommendations.
Additionally, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report of the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj had also recommended that the NREGA wage rate be indexed to the CPI (R). "Despite these recommendations, the meagre increase in NREGA wage rates has not been proportional to the increase in NREGA wage rates has not been proportional to the increase in inflation and the cost of living in the past few years," it said.
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