People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 04, 2009

Wages and Workers� Rights under NREGA


Brinda Karat


IN his budget speech, the finance minister had made a categorical assurance that the wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) would be raised to 100 rupees. It was said at the time that the increased budgetary allocation to Rs 39100 crore for NREGA was to ensure adequate funds for the wage increase. The finance minister had also assured of a �real� wage, in other words a wage linked to a price index. However, even after four months, there has been no notification for the wage increase, leave alone any linkage with a price index.




But an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, made by the CPI(M) Central Research Unit�s member Smita Gupta, elicited a response which exposes the government�s hypocrisy. It emerges that at a meeting held in the ministry of rural development on July 10, where the issue of wage increase was discussed, the financial adviser to the ministry, according to the minutes of the meeting, opined that �Hon�ble finance minister has said that we are committed to provide the rural wage of Rs 100; he has not said that we shall provide the rural wage of Rs 100 as entitlement under NREGA.�

As if such bureaucratic semantics were not enough, a representative of the prime minister�s office at the meeting said, �it (the finance minister�s statement) indicates the will of the central government to raise the wage.� In a new interpretation of the old adage �where there is a will, there is a way,� the will is there but not the way for the representative of the PMO. According to him, the onus is on the state governments; he said, �States should come forward and request for enhancement of their wage rate to Rs 100 to the government of India.� Yet no state government has been informed that they should apply for such a wage increase. The meeting concluded that �the issue of notifying Rs 100 as wage rate will be on the basis of states approaching to enhance their wage rate up to Rs 100 and shall be examined by the government of India.� Thus a categorical assurance to the parliament is reduced to an application by the states which will then be �examined� by the government of India!

The reason for this was made clear when the representative of the department of expenditure said that �the raising the minimum wage across the board immediately will have financial as well as legal implications.� For the central government, financial implications of continuing the concessions to the corporates are of little concern, but an increase in wages which will make a huge difference to the lives of crores of families has to �be examined.� At a time of drought when work days created by agricultural operations are at an all-time low, at a time when the relentless price rise of essential commodities has eroded the earnings of the poor, increase in wages is an urgent necessity.

At present twenty one states and union territories have a minimum wage below 100 rupees. In January 2009, when the country was preoccupied with the forthcoming elections, the central government arbitrarily issued a notification imposing a wage freeze on the basis of the then existing wages for all states. In May this year the Andhra Pradesh government increased the minimum wage. A writ petition was filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court questioning the competence of the central government to fix the minimum wage under the NREGA, which would be less than the minimum wage fixed by the state. The High Court stayed the operation of the January notification for a period of eight weeks during which the central government had to respond.

The� frozen� wages as per the January 2009 notification are as follows:

Arunachal Rs 65-67; Maharashtra Rs 66-72; Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Orissa Rs 70; Chhattisgarh Rs 72.23 (raised to Rs 75); Uttarakhand Rs 73; Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal Rs 75 (raised to Rs 81); Assam Rs 79.60; Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu Rs 80; Bihar Rs 81 (raised to Rs 89); Manipur Rs 81.40; Karnataka Rs 82; Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram Rs 91; Jharkhand Rs 92; Punjab Rs 93-105; Goa Rs 110; Kerala Rs 125; Haryana Rs 141 Pondicherry Rs 80 The wage in Tripura is Rs 85.




Wage freeze is one aspect. The nature of work calculation is proving to be a fatal flaw in the implementation of NREGA. The present system of piece rated work is based on a schedule of rates (SORs) which reflects high productivity norms. In most states, particularly where there is hard soil, workers are unable to meet the norm even after a day�s hard work. When this was repeatedly pointed out to the central government, instead of ensuring a decrease in the schedule of rates, it issued a notification in January 2008 to increase the working hours from seven to nine hours with a maximum of twelve hours. The demand for a further reduction of the statewise schedule of rates to ensure that workers are able to get a minimum wage is an important demand that needs to be raised.

Recently it was reported that in Andhra Pradesh, prior to the elections, the state government had given instructions to be �liberal� with the measurements. But once the election results were announced, it has reverted to the usual norm! Some states like West Bengal have a separate measurement of work for women, which is 15 per cent less. Rajasthan has a separate rate during the months of May and June, taking the weather into account. In spite of these positive efforts, in large parts of the country, workers are unable to get a full wage. Women mainly lift the mud and carry it some distance (lift and lead). According to the government, it is difficult to measure this work separately; thus the main work that women do is measured along with that done by men. This leads to gross underpayments to women. A solution to this would be a switch-over to the system of time rated work, at least for the work done by women, disabled and the aged.




One of the persisting problems in many states is the delayed payment to workers. Recently, in Panipata, Bada Mulei and Buro Mulei villages in Ganjam district of Orissa, workers under the leadership of the Kisan Sabha affiliated adivasi organisation waged a long battle for 100 adivasi workers who had been denied payment for work under the NREGA for the last eight months. The government owed them wages for 65 days of work calculated at 60 rupees a day, itself below the minimum wage. After a bitter struggle 1,43,000 rupees has been deposited in a bank account in their names which is just around 37 per cent of what the workers are owed. In Bidar district of Karnataka, wage payments which had been delayed for three months were made only after thousands of workers rallied recently under the leadership of AIDWA in a huge dharna at the district headquarters. In Jharkhand, in Godda district as well as in Ranchi, there have been struggles against delayed payments. Unless there is stringent punishment to those responsible for delaying the payment, which has legally to be done within 15 days, there will be little redress for workers.

Another reason for delayed payments is the poor banking infrastructure in many areas. In February, a notification was made that payments to workers must be routed through post offices and banks. However, this beneficial step is now being used as a justification for delay since in many areas there are no rural branches of banks or post offices easily accessible to workers. The government policy to downplay the social role of public sector banks has led to the closure of as many as 5000 rural branches. Now the government is trying to push the business correspondent model for NREGA which basically means outsourcing of banking services to individuals. This will lead to further corruption and lack of accountability. We must strongly protest against this proposal. In the absence of banking infrastructure, as an interim measure, banks may set up mobile units specifically for the areas where there are no easily accessible banks or post offices. Alternatively, public cash payments to workers by the panchayat secretary and/or other government functionaries in uncovered areas as specified in the existing guidelines should be continued.




A related problem is that of measurement of work. Experience shows that lack of personnel, corruption in appointment of mates in league with contractors, etc lead to underpayments. Kerala has established an interesting model through the appointment of trained women mates who often belong to the local self-help groups. In Maharashtra, the lack of personnel and workload on panchayat secretaries led to a long strike by the secretaries. NREGA factors in a 6 per cent budget for overhead costs which includes the appointment of trained personnel specifically for NREGA. Unfortunately, not many states have utilised this provision as a result of which existing personnel have an increased workload and tend to neglect NREGA requirements. It is necessary for us to take up this demand too and ensure the appointment of local personnel specifically for NREGA. However, the government proposal is in this context is really objectionable.




The government wants to outsource work concerning measurement, payment, muster rolls maintenance to the NGOs on the CAPART model. CAPART is a network of NGOs recognised by the ministry of rural development and involved in several of its programmes. It is proposed to give the NGOs territorial jurisdiction of up to four blocks each. CAPART is proposed as the coordinating agency. In effect, the ministry�s proposal will lead to the creation of an NGO network as a structure that is parallel to the panchayati raj institutions, undermining the role envisaged for panchayats in the 73rd constitutional amendment. According to the proposal, an NGO will not be accountable to the people of the concerned gram sabha and panchayat; it will be accountable to a higher authority only, in this case the district programme coordinator. The CAPART model has several well-documented problems, including corruption. It is completely unwise to incorporate these and other problems of the CAPART model into the NREGA. We are strongly opposed to this proposal as it will create fresh problems of corruption and non-accountability.

NGOs who are committed to the NREGA have already carved out an important place in mobilising the people to access the benefits of NREGA and to help them know their rights. Many NGOs have played an important role in social audits also. However, the NGO-isation of the NREGA itself will gravely undermine the scheme.

Another proposal is to construct a mini secretariat for development works in each panchayat using the BRGF (funds for relief for backward regions), with NREGA funds for labour costs. At present the utilisation of BRGF funds is decided by state governments. Any funds and suggestions to strengthen the panchayat infrastructure are welcome but this strengthening must be in coordination with the state governments. A PM to DM approach will be counter-productive and impinge on the constitutional relationships between the central and the state governments.




The centrality of the NREGA lies in the rights given to workers. Party units and mass organisations working among the rural poor should chalk out struggles on the following demands:

(1) Immediate notification of 100 rupees wage by central government,

(2) Reduction of the schedule of rates and time rated payments for women workers, the aged, disabled etc,

(3) No business correspondent model; payments must be made within 15 days and those responsible for delays must be punished,

(4) State governments must ensure appointment of adequate personnel but no NGO-isation of NREGA as proposed by the centre,

(5) The limit of allotment of work to 100 days a year must be removed in all convergence projects, taking the drought hit areas as a beginning for expansion of the right to work.