This issue is close to my heart as we have been involved in awareness building in Gajapati. Due to pressure from sarpanch-contractor-JE lobby, I decided to quit my position with JITM, Paralakhemundi campus, so that the nexus can be tackled head-on. See our press release on corruption and structural deficiencies in NREGA as implemented in Gajapati below.
Minimum Wage denied as machines compete with people for NREGA jobs
AID-Orissa demands workers be paid at least Rs 70/day
NREGA Piece Rate worse than British exploitation
To toil outside in the hot sun of an Indian summer with temperatures touching 100 F is surely a thankless job the poor of our country are forced to undertake for a living. As if the oppressive summer is not enough, the Gajapati District of Orissa has begun to enforce a measly piece rate of Rs.135 for digging 100 cubic feet (about 4000-5000 kg) of hard soil and carrying this to a distance of up to 50 metres (by making 300-400 trips with headloads of about 15 Kg, thereby walking many kilometres as well). AID-India had inspired rural families in Orissa to file NREGA work applications as a result of which works began this May in villages like Ranadevi in Bagusala block. After 3 days of 40 workers working in Ranadevi village to dig a pond, the government engineers measured the output of the earth excavated and estimated that each worker would get only Rs 15/day as per the measly piece rate. This is nowhere near the states minimum wage of Rs 70/day and the village people rightly refused to work at such inhuman pay levels.
Rather than empathize with the work force and think of better implements and work-site facilities to ease the heat effect, earth moving machine was brought into the NREGA site. In the past few days the machine excavated a large section of the pond. The only way the machine work done in Ranadevi can be paid is by fabricating muster rolls, as there is a bar on labour displacing machines from the NREGA funds that the Central government provides the various states.
To its credit the district administration called a halt to the machines after continuing protest. However it continues to owe people their rightful wage and it needs to accept responsibility for the work done by the machine, so payment for that can be made outside of NREGA funds without manipulation of muster rolls of village families.
NREGA piece rate worse than British times
Interestingly the British who exploited the Indians expected a village person to dig 85-100 cubic feet of hard soil a day, while 2 assistants (carriers) carried the soil on head loads. Thus 85-100 cubic feet of earth digging and carrying was a 3 person-day job, which translates to Rs 210 piece rate at Rs 70/person/day. Comparing Rs 210 for 85-100 cubic feet of oppressive British regime with Rs 135 for 100 cubic feet of Orissa government should put us to shame...
Dhanada K. Mishra
Association for India's Development (AID)
AID Rural Technology Resource Center, Near Village Ranadevi, Via Uppalada, Paralakhemundi, Gajapati Orissa 761211
INDIA Ph. 9437513080