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MGNREGA payments lower than minimum agricultural wages in some states: Report

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Economists at SBI on Wednesday pitched for covering employment guarantee workers under provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, pointing out that MGNREGA payments are lower than the basic agricultural wages in some states. In a note that comes after the government upped spends on the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) by Rs 40,000 crore to limit the impact of the lockdown, they also suggested better strategies for making use of the migrant labour which has returned to their villages.

The economists said a comprehensive database of migrants needs to be built up and advocated the use of call data records (CDRs) which will establish their movements back to native lands from the cities to finish this task.

Lakhs of migrant workers have made arduous journeys back home on foot, bicycles, and crowded trucks, while the more luckier ones have been transported by special train services amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The government has given greater thrust on MGNREGA to revive the economy, with the intent of pumping money into the rural sector which will boost consumption.

“MGNREGA is no longer linked to the Minimum Wages Act and as a result, for a number of instances MGNREGA wage is lower than the state’s minimum agricultural wage,” the SBI economists said, suggesting a relook into the norms for a temporary period.

They also sought improvement in the worksite facilities by ensuring availability of safe drinking water, first-aid kits, shades for resting and creche for children under six years. They also recommended setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism.

Additionally, most workers who are denied work are also unable to secure any unemployment allowance, it said. The economists, however, did not give the impact on the government coffers if such moves were to be implemented.

On the database side, the economists suggested tracking the CDRs juxtaposed with travel history of the migrant labourers from Shramik trains can be a starting point for creating the data.

The districts where the concentration is the highest can be the starting points of creating gainful employment for the migrants, the note said.

It also hinted at giving out the MGNREGA wages in advance through the banking system in order to give an urgent boost to demand and start the consumption cycle.

A 40 per cent advance paid to workers will cost Rs 4,000 crore but boost consumption by Rs 1.33 lakh crore, it said.

The note also pitched for a cluster-based approach while starting MGNREGA works in rural areas, wherein villages should come under a cluster based on certain specific skills and the migrant labourers mapped analogous to such skills.

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