National Advisory Council member and known activist, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (member, CEGC) wrote a letter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, urging that the government implement the recent Karnataka High Court decision and ensure that the state minimum wage is paid on all NREGA worksites across the country.
This judgment follows a series of disputes related to the payment of minimum wages to NREGA workers. In October 2010, the SR Abhiyaan of Rajasthan sat on a 47 day dharna to demand payment of minimum wages and indexation to inflation.
The NAC discussed this issue in the month of October and was in general agreement that minimum wages must be paid to all NREGA workers. Subsequently the Chairperson wrote to the Prime Minister recommending the payment of minimum wages and indexation to inflation.
While the government took a decision to index wages to the CPIAL (Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers), the government continued to assert that NREGA wages were distinct from minimum wages, and a lower wage rate than the state minimum wage could be paid to NREGA workers.
This very issue was under litigation in the High Courts of Andhra and Karnataka. The AP HC has already passed an interim order setting aside the GoI notification that set NREGA wages below state minimum wages.
Now the judgment of the Karnataka High Court has made it absolutely clear that the refusal of the government to pay MGNREGA workers the minimum wage is a violation of their fundamental rights, amounts to forced labour and therefore is a completely unacceptable situation of the government exploiting the poorest workers on its own works.
It is noteworthy that the MoRD minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh has said that he will not like to go in appeal against this decision.
This decision will be used as an opportunity to conclusively resolve this issue and ensure that no worker is forced to work for less than minimum wages in the country.