(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 04, 2009
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
minister�s statement) indicates the will of the central government to
wage.� In a new interpretation of the old adage �where there is a will,
is a way,� the will is there but not the way for the representative of
According to him, the onus is on the state governments; he said,
come forward and request for enhancement of their wage rate to Rs 100
to the government
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
with the measurements. But once the election results were announced, it
reverted to the usual norm! Some states like
A related problem is that of
measurement of work.
Experience shows that lack of personnel, corruption in appointment of
league with contractors, etc lead to underpayments. Kerala has
interesting model through the appointment of trained women mates who
belong to the local self-help groups. In
SAY NO TO
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.