PM, Ramesh had strong views on MNREGA wages

According to the centrally funded MNREGA, the payment is Rs 100 per person per day with a committed employment for 100 days in a year.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh took strong positions
on the issue of wages paid under the flagship employment
scheme MNREGA before the minister yielded to the PM`s
instructions to challenge a Karnataka High Court order in the
Supreme Court.

According to the centrally funded MNREGA, the payment is
Rs 100 per person per day with a committed employment for 100
days in an year.

Some state governments have increased the minimum wages
much higher than the stipulated amount under the flagship
employment scheme.

On September 23 last year, the Karnataka High Court had
struck down fixation of wages saying rates shall be decided in
such a manner that they are not less than the minimum wages
fixed by the state governments for agricultural labour in
their areas.

Expecting a similar judgement from the Andhra Pradesh
High Court, the Centre had decided to challenge the decision
in the Supreme Court through a special leave petition (SLP)
which was opposed by Ramesh.

Ramesh had opposed the SLP move on three grounds -- an
earlier opinion of Attorney General dated December 7, 2010,
Chairman of National Advisory Council (NAC) Sonia Gandhi`s
letter to PM on November 11, 2010 and his own views which
supported changes in MNREGA and Minimum Wages Act to bring
consonance in them.

After much deliberation, the government filed an SLP but
the Supreme Court on January 23 this year refused to stay the
High Court order.

Behind the SLP is a chain of letters and meetings between
Singh and Ramesh where their strong positions on the issue are
quite evident.

The letters, revealed under the Right to Information Act
to activist Subhash Agrawal, show that the Centre wanted to
challenge the High Court order.

Objecting the move, Ramesh in his letter, dated October
30, 2011, to the Prime Minister said it is "inadvisable" to
challenge the order in the Supreme Court.

"Considering the unequivocal nature of legal opinion in
favour of adherence to Minimum Wages Act 1948, it is unlikely
that the Central Government would succeed in reversing the
decision of Karnataka High Court," the Minister wrote in the

Ramesh also said there was a likelihood that the Supreme
Court may declare the provisions of wage payment under NREGA
as ultra vires on the same grounds as the High Court.
He suggested amendments in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948
and MNREGA to bring consonance in them.

Ramesh cited the views of National Advisory Council (NAC)
Chairman Sonia Gandhi that MNREGA workers should be paid
minimum wages notified under the Minimum Wages Act.

Documents suggest that the Rural Ministry went ahead
seeking legal opinion on the matter, in which Ramesh noted on
a file on December 7, 2011, "I am taken aback by the fact that
the Ministry of Rural Development sought an opinion from the
Department of Legal Affairs for filing a SLP before the
Supreme Court on this matter without getting my approval.

"This is completely unacceptable under any circumstance
but more so given the importance of issue under discussion.

want to make my displeasure known in unequivocal and
categorical terms and also want to lay down very clearly that
the final decision whether to file the SLP or not lies with

Five days later, he shot a note to Principal Secretary to
PM saying he was "strongly against the idea of filing a SLP"
for the reasons explained by him earlier and sought a meeting
with the Prime Minister.

On December 19 last year, Singh rejected the idea of
amending these Acts as suggested by Ramesh as "it is likely to
take some time" and asked him to go ahead with challenging the
Karnataka High Court order.

"These options could be considered after an SLP is filed.
We should also keep in mind the pending case before the Andhra
Pradesh High Court. I, therefore, request you to proceed with
filing Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court in
consultation with the Law Ministry," Singh said in a letter
dated December 19, 2011.

"I strongly suggest that all efforts may be made to
ensure that the order of the AP High Court does not become
absolute and final without Government being able to have the
matter considered further from all aspects," he said.

After speaking to the PM and the FM on the issue, Ramesh
replied to Singh the very next day, "I have all along held the
view that a SLP should not be filed...I am also of the opinion
that that somehow the atmospherics associated with the filing
of a SLP will go against us.

"However in the background of what you and FM have
directed, I have already given the go ahead to filing a SLP...
I have taken care to ensure that SLP is not overly
confrontational in nature," he said.


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