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Disappointing Wage Hikes

Last week, the Rural Development ministry had notified the State-wise revised wage rates under the Mahatma Gandhi tiol Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which provides for up to 100 days of unskilled work a year to every rural household. The revised wage rates which came into force on Sunday, provide no increase in 10 States including Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In States like Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, the increase is as nomil as Rs 2. The highest wage increase of Rs 19 is in Tamil du. What is surprising is that the revised rural job scheme rate lags behind the State minimum wage in all the eastern States. For instance, the State minimum wage in Assam is Rs 250 whereas the revised rural job scheme rate for the State is Rs 189. In Bihar, the figures are Rs 237 and Rs 169 respectively; in Jharkhand, Rs 230 and Rs 168; in Odisha, Rs 213 and Rs 182; and in Bengal Rs 234 and Rs 191. “The government is willing to spend on non-performing assets and (banking fraud accused) Neerav Modi, not on the poor. We’ll start an agitation in the 10 States where the wage increase has been zero,” said Anuradha Talwar, tiol convenor of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a conglomeration of organizations working in the field of rural employment. The interesting aspect of this zero increase phenomenon is that the Rural Development ministry had asked the Fince ministry to change the formula for revising wages from based on the Consumer Price Index (Agricultural Labourer) to one using the Consumer Price Index (Rural), but this was refused. One gets the impression that the Fince ministry which should be aware of inflatiory trends before anyone else and endorse legitimate requests for wage hikes accordingly, should be so unwilling to accept facts if it means having to sanction higher wages. Organizations like NREGA Sangharsh Morcha must now work not only towards striving for ratiol wage hikes but also for ways of reducing the cost of living wherever possible. There is a strong reason to question irratiol price hikes of essential commodities without valid reasons.

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Ankur Kalita