More than 300 labourers employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme in the Manika Block of Jharkhand's Latehar district have reportedly returned Rs. 5 — the hike in the wage of MGNREGA workers this year — to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central government.
The government had on March 29 hiked the minimum wage for MGNREGA workers from Rs. 162 to Rs. 167, whereas the minimum wage in Jharkhand, which was declared drought-affected in December last year, is Rs. 212.
The workers sent a letter along with Rs. 5 notes to Modi apparently taunting his government for giving the highest raise to the workers in Jharkhand, Scroll reported. The wages of MGNREGA workers in West Bengal was hiked by Rs. 2 and in Assam by Rs. 3, according to the Indian Express.
"We feel very lucky, because in 17 states the increase was even less. It sounds like NREGA workers in Odisha are now considered very well-off because their wages have not increased at all, [sic]" the letter apparently reads.
The workers further expressed "concern" for the government, which could not offer even the minimum wage of Rs. 212 to "one-third of the rural population" affected by drought. "The government must be really short of money... We feel that you need the extra five rupees more than we do, since your government has so many expenses, [sic]" the letter read.
"To implement the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, you will have to spend an additional Rs. 1 lakh crore at least on salaries and pensions of government employees. Defence expenditure is about Rs 2.5 lakh crore. You must also be spending a lot of money on tax concessions for big companies, aside from giving them cheap land and other resources," it said.
"Considering all this, we NREGA workers have made a collective decision to give up our extra wages for a day and return the extra five rupees to you. We hope that this will help you to keep your corporate friends and government employees happy, [sic]" read the letter.
The Act offers 100 days of "guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work," like building roads, ponds and wells. A total of 1.1 lakh families in the Latehar district are employed under the scheme.
MGNREGA workers in eight other administrative blocks in Latehar will also reportedly write letters to Modi throughout May, protesting against the lower than minimum wage they are being paid. Tribal MNREGS worker Shayama Singh said the workers are angry.
"We do difficult manual work, yet the government thinks it fit to increase our wages by only Rs 5, while giving massive pay increases to officials," Scroll quoted Singh as saying.