Sonia writes to Manmohan on MNREGS wages

Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging “suitable directions” on paying statutory minimum wages to workers employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS).

The November 11 letter is a follow-up to the October 23 meeting of the National Advisory Council, where the “general agreement” was that there could be no deviation from paying statutory minimum wages. In her letter, Ms. Gandhi conveyed the NAC's view and attached a background note containing, among other things, a Supreme Court ruling that non-payment of minimum wages amounted to hiring “forced labour” and a violation of fundamental rights.

This is the fourth communication from Ms. Gandhi to the Prime Minister after the NAC was reconstituted on March 29, 2010. Earlier, she conveyed the NAC's views to Dr. Singh on the Communal Violence Bill, on the draft Food Security Bill, and on the scourge of manual scavenging.

Ms. Gandhi's latest letter comes on top of two letters written on the same subject to the Prime Minister — both by two Congress Chief Ministers. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made a strong plea for minimum wages to be paid to MNREGS workers. Both States have fixed minimum wages in excess of Rs. 100 guaranteed by the Centre.

Together, the three letters have put the United Progressive Alliance government in a quandary because its own position so far has been that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) can supersede the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Indeed, on January 1, 2009, the Centre issued a notification delinking the MNREGS from the Minimum Wages Act, and freezing the MNREGS wages at Rs. 100.

The Centre is also in danger of running afoul of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which stayed the notification, acting on a writ petition filed by labour groups aggrieved by the denial of minimum wages. The petitioners have also sued the Central and State governments for contempt.

Ms. Gandhi's letter was made public in the presence of NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, at a meeting on MNREGS minimum wages organised by Suchna Evum Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan (the national campaign for right to information and jobs). Mr. Mander said a section of the NAC was worried over the financial implications of linking the MNREGS to minimum wages. But we were able to convince them that “you cannot have a law that makes an illegality legal.”

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:00:46 PM |

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