FOLLOWING THE lowest increase since its inception, wages being paid under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGA) have fallen below the minimum wage in 34 of the 35 states and union territories.
Data shows that this is the maximum recorded divergence between the Centre-notified MGNREGA wages and the state-notified minimum wages since 2009, when both were brought on a par for the first time.
Last week, the Centre effected an average annual MGNREGA wage hike of 2.16 percent for the financial year 2019-20, the lowest since the social security scheme was started in 2006. Yet, it’s only in Nagaland that the MGNREGA wage is higher than the state’s minimum wage.
Last year, The Indian Express had reported that in 2018-19, MGNREGA wages were below the minimum agricultural wages in 28 out of 35 states and UTs, owing to marginal hikes — the scheme is not applicable in Delhi.
There is no consolidated data on minimum wages available with the central government as these are notified by individual states. However, a comparison of newly notified MGNREGA wages with minimum wages collated by the collective, NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, shows the maximum divergence is in Goa, Gujarat, Tripura, Telangana, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
In these states, the MGNREGA wage is less than 70 per cent of the minimum wages. For instance, while Goa has a relatively higher MGNREGA wage of Rs 254 per day, its minimum wage is much higher at Rs 409 a day. In Jharkhand and Bihar, which has the lowest MGNREGA wage of Rs 171 daily, the states’ minimum wages are Rs 239 and Rs 246, respectively.
In 2011, two years after MGNREGA wages were brought on a par with minimum agricultural wages, only Goa, Kerala, Haryana and Mizoram had MGNREGA wages lower than minimum agricultural wages.
In 2015, a panel set up under Prof Mahendra Dev by the Ministry of Rural Development recommended that MGNREGA labourers should be given either the state’s minimum wage or the then existing MGNREGA wages, whichever was higher.
“With the rationale that workers should be paid basic wages, the panel had recommended that at least for a period of five years, this parity should be maintained. We also held that the annual wage revision should be indexed to Consumer Price Index (Rural) instead of the outdated CPI (Agriculture Labour),” Dev, director, Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, told The Indian Express.
The recommendation was rejected by the Finance Ministry as was a subsequent report by the Ministry’s Nagesh Singh committee to at least link MGNREGA wages to CPI (Rural), if not minimum wages, so as to ensure reasonable wage revision.
Debmalya Nandy, from the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, said that as per the January 2019 report of the Labour Ministry’s Expert Committee on Fixing the National Minimum Wage, the existing minimum wages are itself due for revision. “The committee under Anoop Sathpathy (Fellow, V V Giri National Labour Institute) clearly said that daily minimum wages have to be revised to Rs 375 across the country. The idea of NREGA was that it should pay nothing less than minimum wages,” he said.
Presently, five states have a daily minimum wage of Rs 375 or above while the highest MGNREGA wage is Rs 284 a day in Haryana.