Wednesday, July 20, 2011


20 July 2011


By R Rajagopalan

NEW DELHI: The Government finds itself in a jam with its flagship
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)
being widely misused even as the National Human Rights Commission
(NHRC) decides to conduct its own independent audit of the scheme
along with two other flagship programmes of National Rural Health
Mission (NRHM) and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

New Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has, however, taken up as
challenge on how to synchronise the employment guarantee programme
with the ground realities and prevent the leakages at the
implementation level in districts.

The NHRC is conducting review of these programmes to report to the UN
Human Rights Commission in 2012 as its officials says "it is important
to do an audit of what impact the flagship schemes have had on the
well-being of the poor as there is growing evidence of diversion of
funds meant for these schemes."

The MGNREGS guarantees 100 days of work to anybody coming forward in
villages for the manual work, but the average number of days of
employment under the scheme has been 47 and hence the NHRC wants to
explore if there is leakage of the funds or denial of the commitment
made by the government in the Act.

Big farmers are exploiting the employment guarantee scheme to send off
its farm labour to draw wages from the government whenever not
required on the farms in the same manner the textile industry kept 30
per cent surplus staff to get their mills running and getting them
paid through the Employees' State Insurance (ESI) scheme.

On top of it, they are now putting pressure on the government to
suspend the MGNREGS during the peak farming periods of sowing and
harvesting to ensure they have not to pay high to the farm labour. The
labourers in rural areas prefer to work under the scheme that pays
them more and that too without putting in the hard 12 hours plus
labour on the fields.

The Government can not issue any order officially to shut down works
under the scheme as the law bind it not to deny employment to anybody
turning up for work, and it the Rural Development Ministry has
"informally" asked the states to suspend these works during sowing,
harvesting and transplantation.

The state governments too are exploiting the scheme to pressurise the
Ministry again and again to match the wages under the scheme with the
minimum wages statutorily notified in their states. They first revise
the minimum wages and then seek revision of the wages under the

Only last week, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called on to
demand that the daily wage rate under the scheme be raised to Rs 200
as the present wage fixed for Punjab under the sheme is Rs 133 per day
does not match the minimum wage fixed by his government at Rs 153.81
without meals.

Ramesh had tough time to explain to him that the scheme is not to
provide the minimum wage but a guarantee of wage to persons not
getting any employment or wage otherwise. He is already examining the
problem in hand from his predecessors who have raised the wage under
the scheme above the minimum wage in many states because of such
pressure as it is resulting in the non-availability of the labour for
the agricultural works.

For instance, Punjab's neighbour Haryana has fixed the minimum
agriculture wage at Rs 167 per day while it has compelled the Centre
to fix the MGNREGS wage at Rs 179 per day. There are many states where
the farm labour is not easily available because of the wages under the
scheme being higher than the minimum wage rates.

The MGNREGS wage rate in some such states, with the minimum wages in
brackets, is: Uttar Pradesh Rs 120 (Rs 100), Madhya Pradesh Rs 122 (Rs
110), Orissa Rs 125 (Rs 90), Bihar Rs 120 (Rs 109), West Bengal Rs 130
(Rs 96), Assam Rs 130 (Rs 87) and Tamil Nadu Rs 119 (Rs 85).

There are, however, other states where the scheme wage is lower than
the minimum wage, leading to the human right organisations (NGOs)
accusing the government of perpetuating forced labour in clear
violation of its own laws on the minimum wages.

The Centre had, in fact, tried to freeze the scheme wage at Rs 100 per
day across the country through a notification in January 2009 but it
had to withdraw it under protest from the states and the NGOs that it
was unjust as the wages varied from state to state and there can not
be a uniform wage all over India.

The People's Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) went to the extent
of accusing the Centre for use of  Section 6(1) to delink MGNREGS
wages from the Minimum Wage Act as "not just bad in law but also
immoral in so far as it seeks to lower the real wages of the lowest
end of workers in the wage hierarchy."


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