New Delhi: While the demand for jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been rising, the wage rates under it have not kept pace. As per a government notification, for 2019-20, wage hikes range from a meagre Re 1 to Rs 17 for various states and union territories – an average of 2.16% across the country.
Workers in Jharkhand and Bihar – who had to do without any increase last year – will get a hike of Rs 3 and Rs 2 respectively. Six other states and union territories, however, will not see any wage increase.
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, an organisation agitating for the rights of workers covered under MGNREGA, has come out against this “anti-workers’ decision” and demanded a hike in wage rate to Rs 600 per day. According to a statement issued by the organisation, for 33 states and UTs, the NREGA wage rate is less than the corresponding minimum wage for agriculture.
The Congress on Friday also hit out at the BJP-led government over the wage hike under MGNREGA, alleging that making a “measly” 2.16% average annual increase in it shows the “anti-poor” mindset of the prime minister, PTI reported.
The rural employment scheme has for years been plagued by fund shortage, low payment rates as well as payment delays. As The Wire previously reported, it’s because of such issues that workers are increasingly losing faith in the scheme, making way for contractors and middlemen to occupy control of the programme.
Claiming they had been denied work and wages, thousands even attempted to lodge FIRs against Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently for ‘making false promises’.
In the last five years, the rights organisation claims, the employment guarantee scheme has been ‘deliberately undermined’. The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has argued that the government has allocated insufficient funds, not met the demand for additional funds on time, delayed wage payments and suppressed work demand.
Moreover, the organisation says that at a time when the country is witnessing one of its worst job crisis, the meagre hike in wage rates is “nothing less than a much-touted ‘surgical strike’ on the poor.” The government has despite the recommendations of its committees failed to link MGNREGA wages with state minimum wages and index the wage rate to the Consumer Price Index-Rural Labourers (CPI-RL) instead of the Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers (CPI-AL), the organisation has stated in a press release.
“The poor are still recovering from 2016’s demonetisation that crippled the informal economy that led to job-loss for millions across the country. It is ironical that while the government tom-toms about the spectacular economic growth in the last five years, rural wages have remained stagnant in the same period,” it has said.
Last year, several workers had even taken to the streets to demand an increase in the wage rate.