New Delhi: Only seven states pay average wages of Rs100 or more per day to workers under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s flagship rural welfare programme, despite the Congress party, which heads the government, promising to make Rs100 every worker’s entitlement last year.
An anomaly: Villagers of Govindpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan build a road under NREGA project. Ministry officials say wage rates vary nationwide, and are often below Rs100 as payments are task-based. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
The UPA had fixed the daily wage of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)—which promises at least 100 days of work annually to one member of every rural household—at Rs100 in January 2009. Later, it also capped the NREGA wage at Rs100.
This meant states where minimum wages were below Rs100 could ask for more funds from the Centre to pay NREGA wages, while states where the minimum wages were higher than Rs100 would have to incur the additional costs themselves.
But only Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Mizoram, Punjab, Sikkim and Tripura pay Rs100 or more, according to data made available by the rural development ministry, the nodal point for NREGA, in response to a parliamentary question earlier this month.
All others pay below Rs100. Indeed, in five states—Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and Manipur—the notified minimum wages are themselves less than Rs100.
Maharashtra pays only Rs66-72, while Meghalaya and Tamil?Nadu?pay Rs70 and Rs68, respectively. Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, which are widely lauded for effective implementation of NREGA, pay Rs87 and Rs89, respectively.
Ministry officials said wage rates under the scheme vary nationwide, and are often below Rs100 because payments are task-based.
“This is a piece-rate wage. Workers get wages depending on the amount of work they do, the stipulation for which varies from state to state. Hence the average wage paid under NREGA is different across the country,” said a ministry official who did not want to be identified.
The official added that states where minimum wages were below Rs100 had not asked for a revision, and hence they hadn’t been revised.
Experts blamed the minimum wage system for the discrepancy in wage payments.
“What cannot be done and which the rural development ministry has done is putting a cap on the minimum wages,” said Nikhil Dey, founder member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a farmers’ group. “This is both illegal and unconstitutional... Also, the wage rate under NREGA should be linked to the consumer price index to keep into account rising prices.”
Dey said that piece-rate wages, which allowed states to pay workers less than the minimum wage, was also an anomaly.
“This system is not meant for public works, but has been cross-applied to them as well, which does not make sense since the system does not have the ability to supervise. The worst thing that is happening is that instead of measuring each individual’s work under the scheme and paying him based on that, an average wage is being paid to everyone at the site.”