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Date:19/01/2011 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2011/01/19/stories/2011011967542400.htm Back Front Page

Centre's new proposal on MNREGS wage
K. Balchand NEW DELHI: Firm in its decision not to grant statutory minimum wages to MNREGS workers, the United Progressive Alliance government now seems to be considering a statutory national floor level wage as a way out of the impasse. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Tuesday made it clear that the MNREGS wage rate hike offered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was final but added that the government would abide by any court ruling favouring application of minimum wages for them. At a seminar organised by the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Mr. Ahluwalia said he would not comment on whether the decision to link MNREGS wages with the Consumer Prince Index for Agricultural Labour was right. It was now a question of opting for either the centrally decided wage rate or the one fixed by the State government. Mr. Ahluwalia did not reply to the charge that the government had acted in contempt of court in the matter after the Andhra Pradesh High Court suspended a notification of the Ministry of Rural Development Ministry about 18 months ago and that the worst part was that the Prime Minister had still dared to tread a path contrary to the court ruling. He said that those agitated over the issue should take to legal recourse for redressing their grievance and should the judiciary pronounce in their favour the government would have to abide by it. The former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice A.P. Shah said the Prime Minister's declaration was unconstitutional as it amounted to paying less than the minimum wages. He expressed surprise at the Union government implementing its order on wages for MNREGS workers despite the AP High Court suspending it. He said the government's interpretation of the MNREGA provisions defeated the purpose for which they were framed and stressed that section 6(1) of the Act favoured fixing wages higher than the minimum wages but not less than that. MKSS leader Aruna Roy was critical of the Rural Development Minister for not pleading the case of the workers for minimum wages and stressed that paying less than the minimum wages did not appeal to common sense. She wondered why the government was refusing to bear the additional burden when it would not entail an expenditure of more than Rs. 1,200 crore. Bandhua Mukti Morcha leader Swami Agnivesh said the basis on which minimum wages were fixed
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was ridiculous and that the entire structure needed to be reformed. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said that since the Centre had not challenged the AP High Court ruling before the Supreme Court it had no option but to implement it. He attacked the Prime Minister for taking a stand contrary to the court ruling and said that it amounted to contempt of court. He charged that the provisions of the MNREGA were surreptitiously changed before being introduced in parliament to the disadvantage of the workers. Mr. Yechury regretted that the objective seemed to be facilitating loot of government money and new methods were being evolved by the minute. “We now have an IPL India and a BPL Bharat.” CPI secretary D. Raja criticised the government for brazenly violating the law and also came out against freezing of wages for MNREGS workers. He hoped that the government would not make an issue of it. Economist Jayati Ghosh was critical of Mr. Ahluwalia for his statement that the government would not give minimum wages till courts gave such a ruling and charged that the bias was to favour the corporate world as its growth path was profit induced. She underlined that a wage-led growth would prove more beneficial. Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan expressed shock at the refusal of the government to pay minimum wages, that too when the Supreme Court had time and again made its stand clear on the issue that not paying minimum wages amounted to forced labour. The government only facilitated loot of the country's resources, he charged. © Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu

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