Punjab, which is among the laggard states in the implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), wants the daily wage rate for unskilled labourers in the state to be on a par with neighbouring Haryana under the centrally-sponsored programme.
The state government has requested the Planning Commission to enhance the daily wage rate under the scheme from Rs. 184 to Rs. 214 per day - the wage rate for unskilled labourers in Haryana - for its smooth implementation and providing employment to more and more workers.
"The increase in wage rate was taken up with the plan panel three months ago because the rate in the open market is higher than Rs. 184 per day fixed for the state. Due to this difference, unskilled workers are reluctant to work under this scheme. There is also the issue of parity with the adjoining state. Neither the plan panel nor the union rural development ministry has given any assurance so far," a state government official said.
Though the union ministry had revised the wage rate for menial work from Rs. 166 to Rs. 184 per day per day in April, the state rural development department is of the view that the wage rate enhancement would help attract additional work force under the scheme.
"The Centre is of the view that the daily wage rates were decided on the basis of unskilled labour rates at the time of launching the programme and have been increased from time to time for all states. If any state wants to give something more to the beneficiaries, it can do so from its own budget," he said, quoting the discussions.
However, the cash-strapped Punjab government seems to be in no position to offer any additional benefits to labourers under the scheme. In 2011, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, while accusing the Congress-led Centre of "step-motherly" treatment meted out to NDA-ruled states, had said that his state was at a disadvantage in implementing the programme as compared to Haryana due to the lower wage rate.
In addition, the state government is of the view that the 60:40 ratio between wage and material components poses problem and also wants the Centre to widen the scope of the scheme to provide 100 days of employment to each adult member of a family instead of the total household.
Launched in 2006, the scheme has been slow to take off in the state. In 2012-13, the state could utilise just about 47% of its fund allocation of Rs. 330 crore given on 90:10 Centre-state sharing basis. The state has more than 9 lakh job card-holder households, but less than a third of them demanded employment under the programme.
The rural development department has involved other departments such as forests, agriculture and irrigation and introduced the electronic fund management system for direct transfer of wages to the accounts of beneficiaries in the state to attract additional workforce.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
Launched in Hoshiarpur in 2006-07 to provide 100 days of manual work to rural unemployed, it was extended to all districts in the state in 2008-09
Water and soil conservation, flood control and protection works, agricultural and allied activities, afforestation etc permitted
9.1 lakh Households having job cards in 2012-13
2.4 lakh Households provided employment in 2012-13
Rs 157 crore Amount spent out of allocation of Rs. 330 crore in 2012-13
What state is seeking
Punjab wants Centre to enhance wage rate from Rs. 184 to Rs. 214 per day on a par with Haryana, the highest in the country, to attract additional workforce under the scheme.