The hopes of an early compliance to their demand of payment of minimum wages receding, the MNREGA workers, who are on an indefinite dharna here, on Saturday threatened to observe a “Black Diwali” this season.

The dharna, convened by the Suchana Evum Rojgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan, on its 29th day was attended by over 2,000 persons from 22 districts of Rajasthan. The workers took out a rally in the evening demanding action in the anomalies detected in the implementation of the job scheme.

During the day a delegation led by Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy met Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and submitted a memorandum to him on the minimum wages. They asked Mr. Gehlot to go personally to Delhi to plead the cause of MNREGA workers and get the clearance from the Centre on the extra payment needed. Another delegation met the Chief Secretary S. Ahmed and briefed him on the decision not to celebrate Diwali by the workers of MNREGA all over Rajasthan.

“The National Advisory Council too has this consensual opinion that the minimum wages, under Minimum Wages Act 1948, should be paid to MNREGA workers. If anyone says that it is not applicable under the existing provisions of the MNREGA he is taking a very narrow view of justice. We have overwhelming legal opinion in favour of payment of minimum wages,” Ms. Roy said.

The stand of Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj C.P. Joshi came in for severe criticism from the speakers who addressed the participants at the dharna. They challenged Prof. Joshi’s observation that the issue of minimum wage was sub judice as it was pending in the Supreme Court after the Andhra Pradesh High Court directing the State Government to pay minimum wages to workers of MNREGA. Prof. Joshi also has been arguing that the payment in the job scheme was being done strictly as per the existing provisions of the MNREG Act.

“Prof. Joshi is misleading the public by giving incorrect statement on the Andhra Pradesh case. In fact we have information that the contempt petition is going on in the Andhra Pradesh High Court against the State Government for not complying with the earlier court order to pay minimum wages as per the Minimum Wages Act 1948,” pointed out Nikhil Dey of the Abhiyan. He felt that instead of the Centre and the State passing the buck to each other there should be an early decision on minimum wages so that poor people could return home for Diwali.