The increase in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) wage rates for 2021-22 is extremely paltry (see the table). There is no increase in Kerala’s NREGA wage rate. Rajasthan’s wage rate has increased by just Re 1. In fact, for 24 states, the increase in the NREGA wage rate is less than 5 per cent.

The country’s economy has still not fully recovered from the disruptions caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the various lockdowns imposed by the government last year. Even though working conditions continue to remain precarious in urban areas, many workers who returned to their village last year are once again forced to migrate in search of work. Some of them had to go back to their village empty handed. The negligible increase in NREGA wages for the coming financial year will only reinforce this trend. A well-functioning NREGA with adequate wages can provide a lifeline for rural workers and play an important role in reducing distress migration.

It is shocking that while, even during an economic downturn, the government helps businesses by giving them loan write-offs and tax concessions, it doesn’t have the will to provide a living wage for the poorest workers. Like the passage of the labor codes last year, the negligible increase in NREGA wages demonstrates the government’s willingness to sacrifice workers’ basic rights for the sake of corporate profits.

NREGA Sangharsh Morcha demands that the central government increases NREGA wage rate at least to the level of the statutory minimum wage rate for agriculture. Over time, the government must also align the wage rates as per the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. It must also increase the guarantee of work to 200 days. This will require a significant increase in the budget allocated for the programme. The central government has only allocated Rs 73,000 crore for NREGA for 2021-22; Rs 38,500 crore less than the amount allocated for 2020-21.

Table: State-wise comparison of NREGA wage rates for 2021-22 and 2020-21

StateNREGA Wage Rate for 2021-22 (Rs)NREGA Wage Rate for 2020-21 (Rs)Increase in the NREGA Wage Rate (Rs)a
Andhra Pradesh2452378 (3.4)
Arunachal Pradesh2122057 (3.4)
Assam22421311 (5.2)
Bihar1981944 (2.1)
Chhattisgarh1931903 (1.6)
Goa29428014 (5.0)
Gujarat2292245 (2.2)
Haryana3153096 (1.9)
Himachal Pradesh b2542486 (2.4)
Jammu and Kashmir21420410 (4.9)
Ladakh21420410 (4.9)
Jharkhand1981944 (2.1)
Karnataka28927514 (5.1)
Kerala2912910 (0)
Madhya Pradesh1931903 (1.6)
Maharashtra24823810 (4.2)
Manipur25123813 (5.5)
Meghalaya22620323 (11.3)
Mizoram2332258 (3.6)
Nagaland2122057 (3.4)
Odisha2152078 (3.9)
Punjab2692636 (2.3)
Rajasthan2212201 (0.5)
Sikkimc2122057 (3.4)
Tamil Nadu27325617 (6.6)
Telangana2452378 (3.4)
Tripura2122057 (3.4)
Uttar Pradesh2042013 (1.5)
Uttarakhand2042013 (1.5)
West Bengal2132049 (4.4)

a Figures in brackets are the percentage increase in the NREGA wage rate between 2020-21 and 2021-22.

b Wage rate for non-scheduled areas is Rs 203 for 2021-22 and Rs 198 for 2020-21.

c Wage rate for Gnathang, Lachung and Lachen gram panchayats is Rs 318 for 2021-22 and Rs 308 for 2020-21.

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