Gaya (Bihar): Maheshar Manjhi, Lakhan Bhuiya and Janak Bhuiya, all three share one thing in common -- they are landless agriculture labourers fighting for survival but not happy to work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) with a daily wage rate of Rs 176.9, which is far less than the Bihar government’s own minimum wage rate of Rs 257 for unskilled labourers.
“We are not very keen to work under MGNREGA because the daily wage rate is less than the prevailing daily wage rate for labourers like us” said Manjhi, in his mid-40s, who belongs to the poorest of poor Musahari, a small hamlet under Lakhaipur panchayat in Mohanpur block of Gaya district.
Manjhi expressed his anger over the “lowest” daily wage rate under MNREGA. ”It is exploitation of poor like us. The government has been paying the same wage to us for last four-five years despite price rise”.
Bhuiya said wages under MNREGA are really low for hard work, such as cutting soil. ”Daily wage under MNREGA should be not less than state government’s minimum wage for unskilled labourers”,Bhuiya toldNewsclick.
Manjhi and Bhuiya belong to a Dalit Musahar community, one of the most marginalised sections of society for centuries. They live with their families in thatched houses, built on gair-majarua (government-unclaimed) land because neither they nor their fathers or grandfathers owned land. For generations, they have been earning their livelihood as landless agriculture labourers.
Like them, Ramjit Manjhi and Mosaddi Manjhi ,residents of nearby Siriawan panchayat’s Lalpur’s Musahari, a small hamlet not far from the Mohanpur block office, said they get more daily wage when they work at other places, other than under MGNREGA. “We have been forced to work with less wage under MGNREGA .It is not proper for poor like us” Mosaddi said.
What pains them is that these low daily wages under MGNREGA are not even paid on time. “Our work payments under MGNREGA are pending since two to three months,” Manjhi said, adding that this was a usual occurrence.
Ramjit;and Mosaddi said that for past three months they were not working under MGNREGA in their village. ”If we get more daily wages in private works, why we will work for MGNREGA, they said.
Bhuiya said we get payment in our bank account two months after doing the hard work. ”My payment for work completed in third and fourth week of November 2018, but I have not been paid yet”, he said.
A petty contractor in Bodh Gaya, Satender Singh, said the daily wage of labourers in road building and construction work in rural areas varies from Rs 250 to 300, while in towns they are paid Rs 350 to 400.
Suresh Yadav, a labourer of Bara panchayat in Bodh Gaya, complained that the government hardly cared for low wage rate under MGNREGA as well as the delay, adding that this was “very discouraging for labourers like us”.
Dileep Choudhary, a leader of Panchayat Rojgar Sewak in Mohanpur, admitted that labourers were not ready to work under MGNREGA due to low daily wages.
As per the official data available about MGNREGA in Bihar, work is going on in 8,529 gram panchayats under 534 blocks in 38 districts.
Arun Mishra, a Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader, said thousands of labourers were being exploited under MGNREGA in Bihar and across the country.
“At least labourers should be given minimum daily wages, which is contrary to fixed minimum wage rate by the state government”, he said.
Mishra said low daily wage was also against the Supreme Court’s ruling that any wage less than the state wage rate is tantamount to forced labour.
Mahender Yadav of National Alliance of People’s Movements in Bihar, termed the low wage rate as “unconstitutional”, as it was lower than the state’s minimum wage rate.
The last time MGNREGA wages and state minimum wages were aligned was in 2009, but since then several states have announced upward revisions. "For poor labourers and workers, the government hardly hikes wages," Mishra said.
MGNREGA was launched by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance -I government in 2006, to provide minimum 100 days of employment out of 365 days in a year to every rural household willing to do unskilled manual work.