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Government of India Must Immediately Stop Perpetuating Forced/Bonded Labour

21 January 2011

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The following statement was passed during the seminar [titled “Rational Minimum Wage Policy (for the Unorganized Sector)” was held at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) on 18-19 January, 2011, New Delhi] regarding payment of statutory minimum wages which was signed by eminent personalities (names given below) from all walks of life:

Open Statement for immediate release to the press January 18th, 2011
Government of India Must Immediately Stop Perpetuating Forced/Bonded Labour

We the undersigned are deeply distressed at the recent decision by the Prime Minister (in a letter dated 31st December 2010) to delink MGNREGA wages from the Minimum Wages Act even while indexing the wage rate under NREGA to Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour. The Government of India had already undermined the wages under NREGA through a January 2009 notification, when it imposed an unjust freeze at an arbitrary rate of Rs 100 per day on its wages. The Government of India‟s use of Section 6(1) to delink NREGA wages from the Minimum Wage Act is not just bad in law but is also immoral in so far as it seeks to remove the basis of Constitutional and legal protection of the lowest end of workers in the wage hierarchy. With a consistent near double digit inflation rate, touching 9.7% and even higher food price inflation the frozen NREGA wage, over the last 24 months has been significantly eroded in real terms. In fact even after the recent indexing of wages, the MGNREGS wage, in at least 11 states, is lower than the prevailing state minimum wage— a situation that the Supreme Court of India has declared to be forced labour, prohibited under Article 23 of the Constitution.

As it is even State minimum wages have also been artificially depressed, without any rationale, and ignore the minimum need-based norms proposed in 1957 by the 15th Indian Labour Conference. These norms were not only endorsed by the Supreme Court but further enhanced by additional 20% in the Unichoy Vs State of Kerala in 1961 and 25% in the Reptakos Brett vs their workmen in 1991. If these norms are followed, given current rural prices, the minimum wage would be at least Rs. 250 per day. But the Government of India has not only blatantly disregarded these minimum wage setting norms, but is continuing to pay a meagre real wage of just Rs. 100 per day since January 2009 under NREGA.

There is overwhelming legal and political consensus on the need to pay minimum wage in MGNREGS works:

• The Andhra Pradesh High Court in WP No. 11848/2009 suspended the January 2009 notification on freezing the minimum wage for NREGA. The High Court stated that Government being the agency for implementing minimum wages cannot itself violate the minimum wages. In addition, governments of Tripura, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh had also requested an amendment of the January 2009 notification as their state minimum wages were above the notified wage rate. Both the Government of India and the state Government of Andhra Pradesh are facing contempt proceedings since.
• GoI‟s own law officer, the Additional Solicitor General, Ms. Indira Jaising referring to the PUDR Vs Union of India case and Article 23 of the Constitution of India has said that payment of less than minimum wage in NREGA works will amount to forced labour. She also cited the Kamani Metals and Alloys vs their workmen case in which the Supreme Court observed that minimum wage must be paid „irrespective of the extent of profit, the financial condition of the establishment or the availability of workmen on lower wages.‟
• Chief Ministers of the states of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have written to the Prime Minister requesting MoRD‟s compliance with the Minimum Wage Act
• The Chairperson of UPA, Mrs Sonia Gandhi too has written to the Prime Minister calling his attention to find urgent resolution of this matter.
• The Labour Ministry has reiterated its “fundamental objection” to Section 6(1), warning that using 6(1) to allow payment of less than prevailing state minimum wage will not stand legal scrutiny.
• The National Advisory Council, headed by Mrs. Gandhi, also recommended that minimum wages be paid to NREGS workers.
• 15 eminent jurists and lawyers including M N Venkatachaliah and J S Verma (both former Chief Justice of India), V R Krishna Iyer, P B Sawant, K Ramaswamy, Santosh Hegde (all former judges of the Supreme Court), A P Shah (former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court) and Dr. Upendra Baxi, Dr. Mohan Gopal, Fali S Nariman, Prashant Bhushan, Brinda Grover and others have urged the Government of India to immediately revoke its unconstitutional notification and along with state governments ensure that minimum wages are paid to all workers in India.

The Ministry of Finance in its letters dated December 1 and December 6, 2010 has stated that the Government will index the Rs 100 with inflation using wages as of April 1, 2009 as base for notification on January 1, 2011. While indexing wages with inflation recognises the fall in real wages, it will not resolve the core issue.

The Prime Minister has asked the rural development ministry to develop an index for fixing and revising wages under rural job scheme NREGA. Till the new index is worked out, wages under the scheme will be tied to inflation as measured by the consumer price index for agricultural labourers. The order will be effective from January 1, 2011. A committee under the chairmanship of Pronab Sen has been formed to devise an NREGA wage index. This is in itself worrisome as it will create yet another category of categorising workers and thereby institutionalizing the discrimination.

The government‟s refusal to pay even minimum wage on public works at a time when food prices keep shooting up lays bare the Prime Minister‟s promise that “no citizen of our country must sleep hungry”. Moreover it is shocking that a government battling trust deficit as scam after scam privileging powerful corporations become public, will let (comparatively minor) fiscal considerations override a constitutional and humanitarian mandate.

We demand the Government of India:

1. Immediately implements Section 6(2) of the NREGA indexed to inflation in all states thereby upholding the fundamental right to live of its poorest workers.

2. Immediately declares a national floor level need based wage based on the 15th ILC norms and subsequent Supreme Court judgements on minimum wage fixation, below which no state minimum wage can go.

1. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)
- 2. Biraj Patnaik (Principal Adviser, Supreme Court Commissioners)
- 3. Kavita Srivastava (People‟s Union for Civil Liberties)
- 4. Arundhati Dhuru (National Alliance of People‟s Movements)
- 5. Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan
- 6. Anuradha Talwar (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity)
- 7. Dunu Roy (Hazards Centre) 8. Gautam Mody (New Trade Union Initiative)
- 9. Roma (National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers)
- 10. Sandeep Pandey (Asha Pariwar)
- 11. Pradeep Baisakh (Journalist)
- 12. Yogendra Yadav (Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)
- 13. Annie Raja (National Federation of Indian Women)
- 14. Mythri Prasad- Aleyamma (Centre for Development Studies)
- 15. Sunil Kaul (The Ant)
- 16. Kamal Chenoy (Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
- 17. Anuradha Chenoy (Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
- 18. Ambarish Rai (Lok Sangharsh Morcha)
- 19. Dr. Rukmini Rao (Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad)
- 20. Anurag Modi and Shamim Modi (Samajwadi Jan Parsihad, Jan Sangharsh Morcha and Shramik Adivasi Sanghthan)
- 21. Sachin Kumar Jain (Vikas Samwad)
- 22. Dr. Yogesh Kumar (Samarthan, Bhopal)
- 23. Kaveri Gill (Independent Development Economist and Researcher)
- 24. Madhuri (Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan)
- 25. Noor Zaheer (Writer and Social Activist)
- 26. Ashish Ranjan and Kamayani Swami (Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Bihar)
- 27. Dipa Sinha (Reseach Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
- 28. Nandlal Prasad (Lok Samiti, Varanasi) Ajay Patel (Mazdoor Manch/AASRA)
- 29. Ankita Aggarwal (Right to Food Campaign Secretariat)
- 30. Jawahar Mehta (Jharkhand Gramin Mazdoor Sangh)
- 31. Abhay Kumar (Grameen Coolie Karmikara Sangathane)
- 32. Richa Singh (Sangtin Kisan Majdoor Sangthan Sitapur)
- 33. Reetika Khera (Visitor, Centre for Development Economics)
- 34. Karuna Muthiah (Right to Food Campaign, Tamil Nadu)
- 35. K.B.Singh (Social Worker, Madhya Pradesh)
- 36. Arun Tyagi (Jan Pahal, Madhya Pradesh)
- 37. Ishtiyaque Ahmad (Amam Trust)
- 38. Rupesh (Lok Parishad, Bihar)
- 39. Prof Om P Damani (IIT Bombay)
- 40. Anirban Kar (Economics Department, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University)
- 41. Sowmya Kidambi (Director, SSAAT, Government of Andhra Pradesh)
- 42. Kundan Kumar (Senior Project Manager, Igate Global Solutions)
- 43. Guru (AID Bangalore)
- 44. Anindita (NREGA Researcher)
- 45. Anand Sivaraman (Entrepreneur)
- 46. Nandini Nayak (School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London)
- 47. Mohan Bhagat (Professor, Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park)
- 48. Arshad Ajmal (Sahulat Microfinance Society)
- 49. Jayant Thakur (Lawyer)
- 50. Arudra Burra (Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Law, University of California at Los Angeles
- 51. Sharukh Alam (The Patna Collective)
- 52. Vikalp Mishra (University of Alabama, Huntsville)
- 53. Anuj Grover (AID Delhi)
- 54. Anjani Kumar
- 55. R. Selva Ganapathy (AID Delhi)
- 56. Pritish Bose (Shramajibee Samanvay Committee, West Bengal)
- 57. Dr. Shakeel Rahman (CHARM, Patna)
- 58. Ranjan (Nidan, Bihar)
- 59. Albert Joseph, Executive Director, FVTRS
- 60. L.S Ghonoidoss, Sucwlworn, West Bengal
- 61. Fr. Anthony Karik, President, FVTRS, West Bengal
- 62. Pradeep Mahapatra, Udyama, Orissa
- 63. PAHAD
- 64. Dillip Verma Bal, SRUJAN, Orissa
- 65. Fr. Corlls Gonsalves, Don Bosco, Maharastra
- 66. Levkish Viaka, Amar Shaheed Chitra Sangathan, Uttar Pradesh
- 67. K. Mahasa Sundra, Pondicherry
- 68. Nandkumar Dhande, Priyadasshum, Maharastra
- 69. Darade Sunil, Maharashtra Jantik Shishan Ahmadnagar
- 70. P Kampe, Byancun Sena
- 71. Dragpal Singh, HVSS
- 72. Anna John, SRWD, West Bengal
- 73. Khairuinsa N Shan, KDDC, Karnataka
- 74. R Y Swamy Naik, HELP Hirigur, Karnataka
- 75. Sr. Cecil, Christ Raja Ashram, Rajasthan
- 76. Angumahato, Lokhit Sen, Jharkhand
- 77. Sachi Kumari, CSS , Jharkhand
- 78. H F Akki, NEEDS
- 79. M H Angakri, Sarvodya, Karnataka
- 80. D G Chibbori, I W S Karnataka
- 81. G Chabradhururao, Y C D Andhra Pradesh
- 82. Karamat Ali Khan, NIPDIT, Orissa
- 83. Sr. Annie Davis, Uttar Pradesh
- 84. Henry Sach, St. Joseph‟s Convent College, Jharkand
- 85. A. Isac Singh, SWAN, Tamil Nadu
- 86. Sr. Ann Maria, Kristi Jyoti
- 87. Mohinuddin Shah, West Bengal
- 88. Fr. Sir P Job, ADCI S W Society, Kerela
- 89. Hardkishore Prasad, Rajasthan
- 90. Sohrab, GRASS
- 91. Sukhbal Singh, GRASS
- 92. Fr. Sukumar, KECYKS (West Bengal)
- 93. Ancul, GRASS
- 94. Gouulananda Ojha India Development Project, Orissa
- 95. Nasim Ansari, Tarun Cletra, Uttar Pradesh
- 96. Sr. Mabul Pinto, Karnataka
- 97. Anpama, Jharkand
- 98. Sr. Sadhana, Uttar Pradesh
- 99. Hari Shankar Rant, Kandhamal, Orissa
- 100. Suraj Singh, Uttar Pradesh
- 101. Fr. K. D Joseph, KDSSS, Andhra Pradesh
- 102. Arun Kumawat, Rajasthan
- 103. Udaiveer VishwaKumar, Sahas Sewa Sansthan, Uttar Pradesh
- 104. Senastian K, Jeevana, Kerela
- 105. Fr. Regimon Cyriac, SVS, Jharkhand
- 106. C. P Nicholas, FVTRS, Bangalore
- 107. Dr. P . Basak, FVTRS, Karnataka
- 108. B.K Panda, FVTRS, Karnataka
- 109. H.R Sunny, FVTRS, Uttar Pradesh
- 110. Prem Kumar Sinha, The Vigil, Bihar
- 111. S. Paranjhotay, CNI-SS, Nagpur
- 112. S Nageshwar, FVTRS
- 113. Subodh Kumar Pandey, AGYVS, Bihar
- 114. Fr. Veeresh, SMSSS, Karnataka
- 115. Francis Anthony, Institute of Social Research and Development, Madhya Pradesh
116. Shinoj PC, COD, Calicut
- 117. Sasikumar PB, Shvoyas, Kerela
- 118. Rosara Mohanti, Kalahandi Orissa
- 119. Pramila Patna, Kalahandi Orissa
- 120. Amrendra Kumar, SVWST, Jharkhand
- 121. Akokla Insorg, FVTRS
- 122. Prashanth, FVTRS, Bangalore
- 123. Arpana Bharti, FVTRS, Bangalore
- 124. Ankur Kachhwana, FVTRS, Jodhpur
- 125. Raju Teron, FVTRS
- 126. K Vijaya, VMMIL, Tamil Nadu
- 127. Sr. Sumitha, Krupalaya, Tamil Nadu
- 128. Biswaji Padhi, SRUSTI, Orissa
- 129. S Charides, WEEDS, Tamil Nadu
- 130. Rishi Riddhi Anhata, Shamayiti, West Bengal
- 131. Prajnamita, Shamayiti, West Bengal
- 132. Akhilesh Mishra, FVTRS, Rajasthan
- 133. L Pankajakshan, Santhigram, Kerela
- 134. A Isac Sinwalt, SWAN, Kanyakumari
- 135. Ram Shram Verma, LJSS, Uttar Pradesh
- 136. Pramod Kumar, Samchit Vikas Sansthan Basti, Uttar Pradesh
- 137. Raghuveer Acharta, FVTRS, Andhra Pradesh
- 138. Diviana Nayagi G, FVTRS, Karnataka
- 139. Usha R, FVTRS, Karnataka
- 140. Pawan k, Gurgaon
- 141. Trilochan Shastry, Dean, IIMB
- 142. Prof. Jean Dreze, Allahabad University
- 143. ICAN 144. Gabriele, D.
- 145. Madhulika Swami, Delhi
- 146. Nalini Nayak, Reader, PGDAV College, University of Delhi
- 147. Prof Pulin B. Nayak, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi
- 148. Ashutosh Swami, General Manager (Retd) Indian Railways
- 149. Dr. Urvi, Medical Professional, USA
- 150. Gautam Desai, USA
- 151. Dr. Rahul Thakur, Medical Professional, USA

Contact Persons:
- Ruchi Gupta 9910206490 Shreya Bhattacharya 9811108328 Kamayani Swami 09771950248