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NEW DELHI : India’s plans to introduce a mandatory national minimum wage, as envisaged in the labour code, has hit a hurdle with the resignation of Ajit Mishra, the head of the expert committee on minimum wages.

The Centre has now reconstituted the committee with veteran labour economist and statistician S.P. Mukherjee as its head.

The move comes almost four months after the panel was set up under Mishra, a professor and director of the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG). Another member of the panel, Tanika Chakraborty, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Calcutta, has also resigned.

The delay will have a cascading effect on fixing a national minimum wage, which has been a big talking point of the labour code on wages and is seen as one of the few positives by the trade unions and the working class. The time lapse also means a minimum wage floor rate is unlikely to be notified even in 2021 despite the code being passed by Parliament in 2019. This is the third committee the Centre has set up so far on fixing a national mandatory minimum wage.

The government has reconstituted the “expert group to provide technical inputs and recommend on fixation of minimum wages and national floor wages to the government", said an internal order of the labour ministry. Mint has reviewed a copy of the order.

The new committee has nine members, including Arup Mitra, professor of economics, Institute of Economic Growth; Rupa Chanda, professor, IIM-Bangalore; and Sibani Swain, additional secretary in the labour ministry.

““Professor Mishra was moving back to the UK’s Bath University where he is originally a senior lecturer as his tenure with the IEG ended. He is staying in the UK and heading the committee was not an ideal situation. His resignation and resignation of another committee member necessitated the reconstitution of the committee," said a government official who declined to be named.

“Yes, there is a time lapse, and it will have an impact on the mandatory minimum wage fixation," said a second government official adding that the “new committee has been given a timeline of three years like the previous committee, which is a bit too much time for the job," the second official added.

Experts and academicians have been demanding a national minimum wage for years and argued that this will benefit a sizable portion of the workforce. The Economic Survey of 2018-19, too, had advocated that India needs to have a mandatory national-level minimum wage to promote social justice and curb distress migration.

“An effective minimum wage policy that targets the vulnerable bottom rung of wage earners can help in driving up aggregate demand and building and strengthening the middle class, and thus spur a phase of sustainable and inclusive growth," the survey had said.

A labour ministry official in-charge of media did not comment.

This is the second committee that has been formed by the labour ministry after it set aside the Anoop Satpathy Committee report in 2019. The seven-member Satpathy panel had suggested a national minimum wage of 375 per day and a monthly salary of 9,750. The panel had suggested that a housing allowance of 1,430 also be provided to city-based workers in addition to the monthly pay.

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