SC orders govt to pay new NREGA wages

NEW DELHI (TIP): The paltry Rs 353 crore increase on last year’s 33,000 crore budget allocation for implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) may not fit the bill as the Supreme Court on Friday ordered implementation of new wages effective since April 1. The UPA government had on February 13 notified new wages for states. For Bihar, wages increased by 16.6% to Rs 153 a day while in Jharkhand it went up by 14.9% to Rs 158. Wages in Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura were increased by 14.8%. Despite the annual increase in wages under MGNREGA since 2011, minimum wages in more than a dozen states are still higher.

This was the reason why the Karnataka High Court had directed the Centre to pay MGNREGA wages in accordance with the Karnataka State Minimum Wages Act. The Centre had appealed against the HC order in the SC, but in January, the apex court refused to stay the HC order saying payment of minimum wages was mandatory under law. This forced the UPA government to revise the wages under MGNREGA. But the revised wages, as specified in the February 13 notification and effective from April 1, is estimated to cost the exchequer an additional Rs 1,000 crore.

However, the increase of Rs 353 crore might not be enough to implement the rural employment guarantee schemes. A bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and S A Bobde disposed of the Centre’s appeal saying implementation of the new wage structure as per the February 13 notification had rendered the petition infructuous. However, it kept open the question — should states pay minimum wages as provided under the law while implementing MGNREGA — open for future and said if any challenge was made to the notification, then the court concerned would decide it on its own merit uninfluenced by the Karnataka HC judgment.

When the national job scheme was started in 2006, the minimum wage for agricultural labourers in each state was taken as the standard wage for MGNREGA workers. However, in 2008, the Centre decided to revise the MGNREGA wage rate by indexing it to consumer price index for agricultural labourers.

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