MGNREGA Wages Increased by as Less as 1 Rupee
Image Courtesy: Counterview
In an absolute mockery of workers’ struggle, the BJP-led government, in a notification issued on March 29, 2019, announced the revised rates of wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The hikes range between Rs 1 and Rs 17 for various states and Union Territories (UTs). In about six states and UTs, the wages have not been increased at all.
Workers belonging to the poorest pockets in Jharkhand and Bihar will have to make do with an increase of Rs 3 and Rs 2 respectively. When one looks at the average increase of the wages of the workers across the nation, it comes to an abysmally low to 2.6 per cent.
Speaking to Newsclick, Richa Singh of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said, “The wage increase in pittance is shameful and condemnable, and needs to be seen as an attack on the rights of the workers, the impact of which is already being seen on the ground. The workers are migrating to other forms of employment; they are losing interest and lack the incentive to work for the scheme. They are falling into the trap of indebtedness, aided by money lenders and middlemen, amidst acute poverty and no work.”
The organisation, in its press release, stated that at a time when the unemployment is at the highest in the last 45 years, the “meagre hike in NREGA wages is nothing less than a much-touted “surgical strike” on the poor”.
The MGNREGA wage rate is less than the corresponding minimum wage for agriculture, with the difference being the highest in Goa, where the NREGA wage rate is only 62 per cent of the state minimum wage for agriculture. Speaking to Newsclick, Gangaram Paikra of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said, “This is like throwing stones into the ocean. The government has disregarded the recommendations by multiple committees for the wage hike and also by the Supreme Court.”
In 2018-19, a record 9.11 crore persons had applied for work, out of which only 7.7 crore persons any work because of the shortage of funds.
Only some of the states from the Northeast such as Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur have got hikes in double digits, with an increase of about Rs 17, Rs 15 and Rs 10 respectively. In Bihar, the hike was of Rs 3, in Madhya Pradesh of Rs. 2, and in Punjab, of merely another Rupee.
There is only one state – Nagaland – where MGNREGA wages are higher than the agricultural wages. However, in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, MGNREGA wages come to about two third of the agricultural wages.
From October 2018 to February 1, no Fund Transfer Orders (FTOs) were processed due to non-availability of funds for MGNREGA, even when the Act promises that wages will be given within 7 to 15 days of completion of the work.
Currently, over 6,000 workers are sitting on an indefinite strike in Madhya Pradesh over the non-payment of funds. The social security scheme is facing severe fund crisis with the state governments left with no funds to pay the workers. The NDA government had allotted only Rs 60,000 crore for the scheme in its 2019-2020 budget. But NREGA Sangharsh Morcha demands that the government increase the funds for the scheme, as government’s own reports have projected that a total amount in the range of Rs 88,000 crore per year would be required for proper implementation of the scheme.
In the last few years, workers took to streets several times to demand an increase in the wages. Jharkhand’s workers even returned the meagre hike of Rs. 5 (in 2016-17) and of Re 1 (in 2017-18) to the prime minister, in protest. MGNREGA workers across the country had previously filed complaints of fraud across the country against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Morcha has called the latest move of the government “anti-worker” and demanded an increase in the MGNREGA wage rates to Rs 600 a day. This follows the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendation of Rs 18,000 as the minimum monthly salary.
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