When Manmohan Singh wrote to the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC on December 31, rejecting its recommendations to increase minimum wages paid under the NREGS, he had referred to a “consensual view” that emerged from ministries involved.
Gandhi had written to the PM in November that workers under NREGS were being paid less than the minimum wage in some states. “This is a totally unacceptable situation and needs to be corrected at once.”
A crucial factor in the PM’s rejection appears to have come from objections posed by a bureaucrat in the rural development ministry — 1978 batch Rajasthan cadre IAS officer Arvind Mayaram — who is said to be close to 10 Janpath. Mayaram is additional secretary and financial adviser in the ministry.
An internal ministry note objected to the financial implications in increasing NREGS wages. It said since states could revise minimum wages at discretion, linking NREGS to minimum wages would commit the Centre to paying that rate.
In 2009, Mayaram, referring to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s budget speech had said: “The finance minister has said we are committed to provide the rural wage of R100 as an entitlement under NREGA… he (the FM) has not said we shall provide the rural wage of Rs 100/- as entitlement under NREGA.”
But Mukherjee subsequently clarified that he had meant the government would pay Rs 100 and there was no ambiguity as interpreted by Mayaram.