NREGA wages fight gathers steam
State Writes To Centre On Raising The Wages,But Is Shy Of Taking A Stand
Anindo Dey | TNN
Jaipur: Seventy-year-old Dau Singh is dancing to the tune of a parody music being belted out in the background by a group of people sitting on the pavement.The song urges people to write letters to their brethren and come there to join the fight.Come on mazdoors,get into the act to get what you deserve, urges the song.The venue is the Statue Circle in Jaipur,where hundreds of people from villages of the state are sitting on an indefinite dharna demanding a revised minimum wage for NREGA workers.
A speaker,Lakhan Salvi,ensured that he did not mince a word.It is a fight for self-respect.You deserve to be paid the minimum wages even for NREGA.But beware! We have already got feelers that nothing may happen with this satyagrah.So all of you plan your next step to ensure that you get your rights, Lakhan blared through the public address system.
At stake is the UPA government's flagship programme,the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).Though petitions have been filed at Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka high courts by individuals and workers' groups questioning the competence of the Union government to fix wages under NREGA which is less than the wages prescribed under Minimum Wages Act the ground battle is now being fought in the capital of Rajasthan.
If the minimum wages is undermined,then NREGA loses its meaning.One aspect of the Act was to ensure jobs for the unemployed,the other aspect was to ensure that they get the due value.In fact,it was NREGA which had ensured that the minimum wages are paid to workers but not paying the minimum wage is not only unconstitutional,but no one would be willing to work under it even if they get higher wages elsewhere, says social activist Aruna Roy of the Suchna Evum Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan,which is heading the satyagrah.
Currently,the wages for NREGA is governed by Section 6 of the Act and the Union ministry of rural development has been maintaining that the section is immune from the Minimum Wages Act.In fact,in response to a recommendation by the Working Group on Wagesformed under the National Employment Guarantee Council to raise the minimum wage,the ministry has said: This is not feasible.The wage rates fixed under Section 6 (1) of the Act are distinct from the minimum wages.The provisions of the Act have to be respected.
Earlier,on an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a petition filed by one Karri Sanyasi Naidu against the government of India,the ministry said,... the state government is obliged to pay the minimum wages as notified by the Minimum Wages Act 1948.However,the government of India will reimburse the amount to the extent permissible under Section 6 (1) of the NREG Act. This was stated by Satyendra Kumar Singh,director,NREGA,in the court.
This stance of the Centre put the onus of paying the extra sum to the NREGA worker onto the state governments which they are refusing to buy.
In Rajasthan,after 17 days of sit in by the activists the government accepted that the NREGA wages should meet criteria of a minimum wage but instead of taking a stand on it just wrote to the Centre for the same.
It might well be a correct position that the Centre should pay the whole amount when it is a Central scheme.Especially since Section 22 (1) of the NREGA clearly states that the wage component must be entirely paid by the Centre, asserts Nikhil Dey,another activist of the Abhiyan,adding,in this battle between the two,it is again the poor NREGA worker who is the sufferer.The courts have consistently held that minimum wages are a Fundamental Right.How can anyone say that a section of the MGNREGA gives them the authority to overrule the most basic protection for workers of the unorganised sector
When contacted,C P Joshi,Union rural development minister said,The Sections 6 (1) and (2) of the NREG Act is very clear on the issue of wages.Whatever legal opinions are being given for making these wages at par with the minimum wages,are subject to scrutiny of the courts.However,the government understands that prices of goods have gone up and that is why the wages for NREGA workers has been increased from the initial sum of Rs 60 that was paid in the year 2000.This apart,on the issue of indexing the wages,the matter is pending with the Planning Commission.As soon as it clears,it we will be taken up with the finance ministry.
After 17 days of sit in by activists,the state government accepted that the NREGA wages should meet the criteria of minimum wages under Minimum Wages Act