April 14, 2024

Inadequate MGNREGA Wage Hike: A Severe Blow to Rural Livelihoods

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THE All-India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), in a statement issued on March 28, has strongly condemned the ministry of rural development's notification regarding state-wise wage rates for unskilled manual workers. The proposed increase in wages for workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is minimal and does not align with the core objectives of the MGNREGA.

There was significant anticipation from the ministry due to the increasing prices of essential goods and the decreasing purchasing power of rural residents. According to a working paper by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), rural Indian wages have experienced negative shifts in purchasing power. The paper states, "By comparing inflation data with the rural monthly wage index provided by the Indian Labour Bureau, the ministry of finance has observed a decline in the purchasing power of rural Indian wages in recent years." However, the current wage revision fails to address this worsening situation and does not guarantee MGNREGA workers a minimum wage.                                                                        

Section 6 of the MGNREGA Act, 2005 makes a provision that notwithstanding anything contained in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the central government, may by notification, specify the wage rate for the purposes of the Act which may be different for different areas. The provision further implies that the wages so notified shall not be less than the wages guaranteed under Minimum Wages Act for agricultural labourers.

The standing committee on rural development and panchayati raj presented a report to parliament on February 8, 2024. The report advises that the current wages are considered insufficient and do not keep up with the rising cost of living, considering wage levels since 2008. Agricultural labourers and workers involved in tasks such as masonry or miscellaneous work are earning daily wages higher than those guaranteed under the MGNREGA.

Furthermore, the committee stressed the need to implement a large-scale rural employment scheme to provide job security and a dependable source of income for poor people living in rural areas who lack other employment options. The Anoop Satpathy Committee, a government body responsible for setting minimum wages, recommended that the daily wages for MGNREGA should be a minimum of Rs 375.

The central government, led by Modi, is openly ignoring the valuable insights and suggestions given by the standing committee on rural development and panchayati raj. Instead, they are prioritising the interests of big corporations and landowners who are fundamentally against the MGNREGA. Despite the clear benefits of MGNREGA for rural livelihoods and the economy, the government under Modi's leadership seems intent on dismantling the programme. Driven by neoliberal economic principles, the Modi administration not only considers MGNREGA unnecessary but also sees it as a hindrance to the country's supposed economic progress.

Workers and their organisations are advocating for a minimum daily wage of Rs 600 under the MGNREGA. The AIAWU is urging its units to stage protests against the wage revision for MGNREGA workers.


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