Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to "urgently" ensure that crores of workers in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA) get wages on a par with the minimum wages act.
If the government accepts Gandhi's recommendation, it could mean increase in wages of MGNREGA workers in 19 states, where only Rs 100 is being paid as per the directive of the rural development ministry. It would also mean an increase in the financial burden of the Centre, which is paying Rs 40,000 crore for implementing MGNREGA, a law drafted by the National Advisory Council headed by Gandhi.
In a note to the Prime Minister, Gandhi attached a legal opinion by additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh which says that workers in the world's biggest job scheme are entitled to minimum wages and paying less is violation of law.
"It is, therefore, clear that minimum wages is the least wage at which a person can be employed by private or public sector," Jaisingh said in her opinion submitted to NAC, which has already asked the government to increase wages. Minimum wages in states vary from Rs 125 to Rs 200.
The rural development ministry headed by CP Joshi had repeatedly refused to increase wages, saying the issue was sub-judice.
On Wednesday, Andhra Pradesh chief minister K Rosaiah blew the lid saying that the matter was not under any court's consideration and if the government failed to notify minimum wages for MGNREGA workers, it would amount to contempt of court. Gandhi referred to Rosaiah's letter in her communication to the PM.
Highlighting its political importance, Gandhi said in a letter on Thursday: "Since the matter is of urgent and inter-ministerial nature you may have wished to have it examined and give suitable directions."
This is only the third time Gandhi has written to the Prime Minister on NAC issues. The other two instances were on the the food security law and ending manual scavenging.