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Wages under MGNREGA ‘inadequate’, ‘not in consonance’ rising cost of living: Parliamentary panel

NEW DELHI: The daily wages paid under the flagship rural employment scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), are inadequate and not in consonance with the rising cost of living, a parliamentary panel told the government on Thursday.

It said this may be one of the reasons for the dearth of workers under the scheme.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, in a report tabled in Lok Sabha, pointed out the high range of variations in MGNREGA wages across the states.

“The committee finds the range of wages vary from as little as Rs 221 in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Rs 224 in Arunachal Pradesh, Rs 228 in Bihar and Jharkhand to Rs 354 in the three gram panchayats of Sikkim (Gnathang, Lachung and Lachen), Rs 328 in Nicobar and Rs 311 in Andaman,” it said.

“Observing the quantum of wages since 2008, the committee finds the wages inadequate and not in consonance with the rising cost of living. At this juncture, the agricultural labourers and other labourers involved in masonry/ miscellaneous works command a daily wage more than the wage guaranteed under MGNREGA,” they said.

“Perhaps, one of the reasons for the dearth of workers… may be the insufficiency of the wage rates under MGNREGA,” the panel said.

The panel also quoted a report of the Anoop Satpathy Committee, a central government committee on minimum wages, which had recommended that the wages under MGNREGA should be Rs 375 per day.

“The need for suitable increase in the wages under MGNREGA has been felt and echoed from various quarters and also highlighted by this committee in its earlier reports,” the committee said, adding that the department of rural development (DoRD) should take a considered view on the issue of suitable increase in the wage rates.

The committee noted that the Government of India notifies the wage rate under MGNREGA using the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour (CPI-AL) and by keeping the wage rates thus obtained on April 1, 2009, or Rs 100, whichever is more, as the base for indexation for the states. They said this method of calculation is obsolete.

The panel, which is headed by DMK’s Kanimozhi, also raised concern over the budget allocated for the flagship scheme.

They said the budgetary allocation to MGNREGA for the financial year 2023–24 seems to be inadequate to cover all the expenditure bases of a scheme of such magnitude.

“Rs 60,000 crore has been allocated to MGNREGA at BE (budget estimate) stage against the proposed demand of Rs 98,000 crore made by DoRD for the financial year 2023–24. While BE for the financial year 2022–23 was Rs 73,000 crore for MGNREGA, which got increased to Rs 89,400 crore at the RE (revised estimate) stage,” they said.

“The reduction in budgetary allocation under the scheme for the current financial year is puzzling and needs to be looked into,” they said.

While agreeing that MGNREGA is a demand-driven scheme, they said, “The pruning of funds at BE stage itself does have a cascading effect on various important aspects such as timely release of wages, release of material share etc which have a telling impact on the progress of the scheme.”

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