How a country like India can deny payment of minimum wages, she asks

For the second time since it was created, rights activist Aruna Roy has resigned from the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), this time criticising the government for not accepting the council’s recommendations on minimum wages to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), even as she thanked the council’s chairperson for the freedom she was given to express views.

In the UPA’s first term, too, Ms. Roy quit the NAC in 2006, expressing her unhappiness at the government moving away from the Common Minimum Programme, whose implementation the council was meant to oversee. But she returned to the NAC in the UPA’s second term in 2010.

Ms. Roy wrote to Ms. Gandhi on May 11, saying that she did not wish to be considered for another term of NAC, and the NAC chairperson accepted the request on May 20. The term of the NAC members ends on May 31.

NAC sources said that while the tenures of the other members have been extended, tribal expert and sociologist Virginius Xaxa will replace Ms. Roy in the council. Dr. Xaxa, currently teaching at Delhi University, is the author of State, Society and Tribes: Issues in Post-Colonial India (2008) and the seminal article “Tribes as Indigenous People of India,” considered essential reading for an understanding of India’s tribal communities. Interestingly, Dr. Xaxa is himself a tribal from Chhattisgarh and will fill the gap in the NAC that was created after the death of Dr. Ramdayal Munda in 2011: Dr. Munda, a tribal expert, too had been an NAC member.

In her letter, Ms. Roy criticises the Prime Minister's Office: “…it is extremely unfortunate that the Prime Minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to the MGNREGS workers and chose instead to appeal against the Karnataka High Court judgment, ordering payment of minimum wages to the MGNREGS workers.” She then stresses, “Even more distressing is the government's refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment.” Saying that she finds it “difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still makes claims of inclusive growth,” she underscores, “I realise that this effort to persuade the government to respect the minimum wages law must now continue outside the NAC.”

Referring to the Food Security Bill, Ms. Roy stresses, “Given the hunger and malnutrition scenario in the country, a Food Security Bill should have been debated and passed by Parliament by now … There has been extensive and healthy debate within the NAC as well as in the public domain on the provisions of the Bill, making it clear that if Parliament were to take it up, it would most likely result in robust and well supported legislation.”

But even as she expressed her reservations about the government and Parliament, she said she thanked Ms. Gandhi for the “democratic freedom” she enjoyed in the NAC: “It has never been even mildly suggested by you as the Chair, that I curtail my expression either within, or outside the NAC. This has given me the space to finish my term with the NAC, with the confidence that I contributed my best to its functioning; without intellectual compromise, or negatively affecting my role outside.”

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