On Sunday, May 1, Labour Day saw a unique protest unfold as labourers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme in the drought-struck state of Jharkhand addressed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with five rupee notes attached. The May Day letter came from workers of Latehar, which is one of the poorest districts of the state.
“Actually, we are very concerned. The government must be really short of money if it is unable to raise NREGA wages to the minimum wage, that too when one third of the rural population is affected by drought,” the letter read, dripping with sarcasm. It called to attention that the minimum wage in Jharkhand is Rs. 212 per day, and the current NREGA wage is Rs. 167. That too, after the Centre raised it from Rs. 162 to Rs. 167 in April earlier this year. The extra five rupees allocated to these workers was returned to PM Modi by over 300 rural families employed under the scheme.
A statement released stated, “This action was initiated by Grameen Swaraj Mazdoor Sangh, a local organisation of rural workers. Among other activities, members of the Sangh are struggling to secure their rights under NREGA, including employment on demand and payment within 15 days. However, interest in NREGA work is waning in the area because wages are so low. The minimum wage in Jharkhand is Rs 212 per day.” The letter also pointed out the fact that Odisha’s wages did not see any increase and remain at Rs. 174, “It sounds like NREGA workers in Odisha are now considered very well-off because their wages have not increased at all.”
Read the entire text of the letter below:
Dear Prime Minister,
This year your government has increased the wages of NREGA workers in Jharkhand by five rupees (from Rs 162 per day to Rs 167 per day). 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.
Actually, we are very concerned. The government must be really short of money if it is unable to raise NREGA wages to the minimum wage, that too when one third of the rural population is affected by drought. (For your kind information, the minimum wage in Jharkhand is Rs 212 per day.)
We feel that you need the extra five rupees more than we do, since your government has so many expenses. 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.
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.
Your faithful workers,
Name:Job Card No: