Civil society group NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has called the latest wage revision under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) for 2021-22 extremely paltry. The increase is less than 5 percent in the case of 24 states while Kerala has seen no increase and Rajasthan Re 1 hike, it said.
The group called for a well-functioning NREGA with adequate wages to provide a lifeline for rural workers and play an important role in reducing distress migration. Stating that the central government has only allocated Rs 73,000 crore for NREGA for 2021-22; Rs 38,500 crore less than the amount allocated for 2020-21, the group wanted the government to increase NREGA wage rate at least to the level of the statutory minimum wage rate for agriculture.
"The country's economy has still not fully recovered from the disruptions caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the various lockdowns imposed by the government last year. Even though working conditions continue to remain precarious in urban areas, many workers who returned to their village last year are once again forced to migrate in search of work. Some of them had to go back to their village empty handed. The negligible increase in NREGA wages for the coming financial year will only reinforce this trend", the Morcha said.
According to them, like the passage of the labour codes last year, the negligible increase in NREGA wages demonstrates the government's willingness to sacrifice workers' basic rights for the sake of corporate profits.
The group also wanted the government to align, over time, the wage rates as per the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. "It must also increase the guarantee of work to 200 days. This will require a significant increase in the budget allocated for the programme", they said.