Bihar lowers wage under MGNREGA

State blames poor financial condition for the move

By Alok Gupta, Jitendra
Published: Tuesday 02 April 2013

The Bihar government has defended its recent move to lower its minimum wage rate offered to unskilled labourers, saying the state is in poor financial condition. Bihar has lowered its wage rate offered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) from Rs 144 to Rs 138, while the state minimum wage is Rs 168. This is despite the Supreme Court ruling, in many cases, that any wage less than the state wage rate is tantamount to forced labour.

Amrit Lal Meena, principal secretary of state rural development department said the wage revision has been done because of the Union government’s inability to pay the minimum wage difference. "The state has to cough up Rs 450 crore annually to pay the wages of labourers," he said. He also cited the decision of the Karnataka High Court on minimum wages. In 2009, workers’ unions, including Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha and Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court against the wage rate under MGNREGA. The petitioners termed the wage rate “unconstitutional” as it was lower than the state’s minimum wage rate. In September 2011, the court ruled in the unions’ favour and directed the Central government to bring MGNREGA wages on  par with the states’ minimum wages. Three months later, the Union government challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court. In January 2012, the Supreme Court Bench declined to stay the high court judgement and suggested that the Centre decide the issue through consultations. The case is pending.

Meena pointed out that state was paying minimum wage of Rs 144 since October last year when the Central government had fixed Rs 122 in April, 2012. He maintained that the decision to lower wages was a difficult one but that state is unable to bear the monetary burden. “We are waiting for the Supreme Court’s order to further revise minimum wage in the state,” he said.

People's organisations like National Alliance of People’s Movements in Bihar and People’s Action for Employment Guarantee have condemned the state’s move, which is effective from April 2, terming it as anti-poor. They have appealed to the Bihar government to take back its decision and have demanded adequate resources from the Centre to pay current minimum wage of Rs 168 per day to labourers.

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