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Published: January 21, 2011 00:22 IST | Updated: January 21, 2011 00:22 IST

Prime Minister has undermined MGNREGA, say social activists
K. Balchand

Expressing distress at the Prime Minister's refusal to pay the statutory minimum wages to workers under the employment guarantee programme, a group of 150 social activists has criticised the government's decision to merely allow an index-linked rise in current wages. They accused the Prime Minister of further undermining the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) by delinking the remuneration from the Minimum Wages Act, that too after the Ministry of Rural Development arbitrarily froze the wage at Rs. 100 a day in January 2009. Sonia's request The present controversy stems from the Prime Minister's letter to the National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi in response to her request for payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers. The Prime Minister turned down the proposal, but agreed to link the wage rate of Rs. 100 a day with the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour to cover erosion in real wages due to inflation. Indexation resulted in a rise in MGNREGA wages between 17 and 30 per cent in most States, but still fell short of the statutory minimum wage in 11 States Describing the Prime Minister's action as “immoral,” the signatories alleged that it amounted to denial of Constitutional and legal protection to the lowest stratum of workers. The statement expressed surprise that the Prime Minister had ignored not only an Andhra Pradesh High Court ruling suspending the notification freezing wages for workers under MGNREGA, but also the opinion of the Additional Solicitor General and the Labour Ministry that non-payment of minimum wages was a violation of the Constitution. Even the pleas of United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi failed to influence the Prime Minister, who also ignored the request of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister to abide by the High Court ruling. Promise belied The Prime Minister's stand belied his promise to not allow anyone to sleep on a hungry stomach, the signatories who included Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, Nikhil De, Annie Raja, Yogendra Yadav, and Medha Patkar alleged. The statement demanded that the government uphold the fundamental right of the poorest of workers and declare a national floor-level need-based wage, below which no legal wage could be paid. Keywords: National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, MGNREGA

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