By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The Centre has finally notified an increase in minimum wages of MGNREGA workers in the country, but it is too little to offset the reduced real time wages of the rural workforce on account of the high level of retail inflation that stood at 6.44 per cent February last month, only a little below than 6.52 per cent in January 2023.
According to the notification for MGNREGA minimum wages hikes are ranging from only Rs7 to Rs 26 (2 to 10 per cent), which remains a major concern since the number of days available for work has been declined to only 46.9 days per household in a year as against the guaranteed 100 days as per the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) 2005. MGNREGA workers in majority of states would therefore continue to struggle for there sustenance in the financial year 2023-24. The increased wages would apply from April 1.
For Rajasthan the increase was highest. It was re fixed from Rs 255 per day in 2023-24 from Rs231 in 2022-23. Percentage increase in Bihar and Jharkhand was about 8 per cent from Rs210 per day to Rs228 per day. Wages in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have been increased from Rs204 in the current year to Rs221 for the next fiscal. Lowest increase has been notified for Karnataka, Goa, Meghalaya and Manipur. After the increase Haryana will have the highest daily wage for MGNREGA workers at Rs 357.
The meagre increase in the wages cannot take care of the households needs for survival, especially those who had no work anywhere but in the MGNREGA. The record as on March 27, 2023 shows that average days of employment provided per household was only 46.9 days in 2022-23, despite the claim of good governance by the Centre.
The dismal performance of the MGNREGA Scheme can just be imagined from the fact that approved labour budget for 2022-23 was only 277.13 crore which is further bound to go down on account of reduction of allocation under the scheme by 33 per cent for 2023-24 as against the revised estimate for 2022-23. The approved labour budget as of now is much less than last years 337.76 crore, and even less than 277.63 crore in 2019-2020.
Total number of job cards have been issued to 15.21 crore workers against 27.27 crore workers. Moreover, only 9.95 crore job cards are active against 14.98 crores active workers. It is also worth nothing that SC workers against active workers are 19.81 per cent while ST workers are 16.39 per cent, which meant over 36 per cent of the MGNREGA workers are from SC and ST communities. SC person days stands at 19.29 per cent, while it stands at 17.94 for STs.
Women are likely to suffer more than men since women person days out of total is 57.35 per cent.
It should also be noted that average wage rate is Rs 217 for 2022-23. Only 29.38 lakh households could be given 100 days of work out of 27.37 crore workers in the rural areas. Total households worked was 6.09 crore, while total 8.6 crore individuals were given some work under the scheme.
All these indicate that majority of workers are not getting work under the scheme. Workers are facing numerous hurdles in getting work under the scheme due to a new app NMMS based attendance and payment system that are linked through Aadhaar.
The Centre therefore need much more than a little increase in the minimum wages for MGNREGA workers. The Centre needs no only to increase fund but to bring a revamped system through which large scale exclusion of rural workers could be prevented. Timely payment remains an issue to be resolved by timely transfer of funds to the states, and also to the workers’ accounts. The issue of unsuccessful transaction of wages in time have also been raised by the department related Parliament Standing Committee last year. The Committee have also noted that in many occasions transferred funds were also not credited to the workers’ accounts.
The last, but not the least, the minimum wages for MGNREGA workers need to be enhanced at par with the minimum wages for other rural workers in agriculture and non-agriculture activities. The discrepancies are there with them having three different wages. The prevailing discrepancies across the states also need to be removed. (IPA Service)