New Delhi: It is the latest face off between Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council and Manmohan Singh led UPA government. The Council and the Rural Development Ministry have come to blows over what should be the minimum wage under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
The NAC's resolution that endorses the urgent need for increasing wages is in direct conflict with the position taken by the Rural Developemnt Ministry. At the heart of the conflict is the debate of whether NREGS wages can be less than Minimum wages.
Hence, it is a royal battle over a 100-rupee wage far from the limelight. In one corner is CP Joshi, Rural Development Minister, and in the other is the Sonia Gandhi led NAC. Joshi believes NREGS wages cannot be higher than 100 rupees even if the minimum wage is more than 100 rupees in many states. But the NAC's latest resolution says NREGS wages cannot be lesser than the minimum wage.
This NAC resolution meant to force the Rural Development minister to take another look at the rule that froze wages at 100 rupees has left Joshi unfazed. It seems he is neither deterred that the resolution has the backing of his own party president Sonia Gandhi nor convinced of the merits of the case.
This puts the government on shaky legal ground. The right to a minimum wage is guaranteed by the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and a 1983 Supreme Court judgment. More recently the ASG, Indira Jaisingh said, ''the payment of wage below minimum wage would amount to forced labour''. Finally the AP High Court in September upheld the right to minimum wages even under the NREGS.
The NAC has been forced to play bad cop yet again in this latest face-off with the central government. And it is clear that this battle to get the government to pay the minimum wage will be a long-drawn affair.