BHUBANESWAR: At a time when unemployment is high due to the extended lockdown and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is the only option to provide wage employment to over 5 lakh returnee migrant workers, permission given especially to Keonjhar district for payment of higher wage under the Central scheme has put other districts in a spot.
The mineral rich Keonjhar has received permission from the State Government to pay ‘minimum wage’ of Rs 298 per person per day under the flagship rural employment scheme against the current MGNREGS wage rate of Rs 207 by utilising funds available under District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trust.
In effect, MGNREGS workers of Keonjhar will earn Rs 91 (about 44 per cent) more compared to workers of 29 other districts and the wage discrimination for same job under the scheme in non-mineral bearing districts has baffled many in the government.
In order to help the rural poor in Keonjhar district to cope with the immediate economic impact of the pandemic and prevent them from falling deeper into poverty, all MGNREGS workers in Keonjhar will be paid the minimum wage during 2020-21 fiscal.
“The current MGNREGS wage rate of Rs 207 per person per day will be ‘topped up’, with Rs 91, in order to match the minimum wage rate of Rs 298, notified by Labour and ESI department, by utilising the funds accrued under District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trust, Keonjhar,” said a press note released by district administration.
While the office of district Collector, Keonjhar said it had obtained permission from the State Government for use of DMF fund to pay minimum wage, repeated attempts to contact senior officers of Panchayati Raj department proved futile.Taking serious objection to the unilateral decision of Keonjhar Collector Ashish Thakre for use of DMF funds for payment of minimum wage to MGNREGS workers, opposition BJP chief whip in the Assembly and one of the members of Keonjhar DMF Trust Board Mohan Majhi said prior approval of the Trust Board is mandatory but this has not been the case.
“We are not opposed to higher wage as the current MGNREGS wage is much lower than the minimum wage of the State. But, a Government cannot discriminate wage earners of other districts just because they have no funds in their DMF Trust. This is unethical and illegal. I will raise the issue before the Government,” Majhi said.
Disapproving wage discrimination, State president of CITU Janardan Pati said it is the moral responsibility of government to pay minimum wage as announced for different categories of workers.