Sign the online petition appealing to the government to stop perpetuating forced labour

Click here to ‘Appeal to Government of India and State Governments to Stop Perpetuating Forced Labor’

Below is the text of the petition:

To: Government of India, State Governments

India’s celebrated landmark legislation, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005, was designed to provide a minimum level of income to all rural families while empowering them through a series of legal entitlements. However in an unconstitutional and deliberately callous decision, the Central Government has de-linked the wage paid to MGNREGA workers from minimum wage thus severely undermining the sanctity of the Minimum Wage Act, and attempting to legalize what the Supreme Court of India has declared to be “forced labour”.

In January 2009 the Central Government froze wages under this Act at Rs. 100 per day. Thus with time NREGA wages have fallen below minimum wages; and have also fallen in nominal terms with the unabated double digit food price inflation over the past year. Most state governments refuse to pay anything more than what the Center gives them and now several states (e.g., AP, Karnataka, Kerala, HP, Haryana, Rajasthan) are paying people working on MGNREGA work sites much below the minimum wage. In one of the more shocking examples, Rajasthan recently paid 99 workers in Tonk district one rupee a day after eleven days of work!

The Supreme Court, in three separate rulings, has held that non payment of minimum wages is tantamount to ‘forced labour’ prohibited under Article 23 of the Constitution. Further the Supreme Court holds that ‘forced labour’ may arise in several ways, including “compulsion arising from hunger and poverty, want and destitution”. Consequently the notification itself has been struck down as unconstitutional by the AP High Court and declared unconstitutional by the Additional Solicitor General, Government of India.

As per the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) report on poverty, 77% (~836 million) of the population lives on less than Rs. 20 ($.50) per day. But tragically, this Act brought in to empower the poor and eradicate poverty is now undermining one of the most fundamental protections for workers in the unorganised sector. With this notification, it is obvious that the government itself is perpetuating poverty, and blatantly exploiting the poor. It is morally reprehensible that the Indian State should deny its own citizens the right and dignity of constitutionally mandated wages while it boasts of 8-9% GDP growth rate and exercises global influence (member, G20 and demanding a permanent UNSC seat) as an economic superpower.

This is to request you to please write to the Prime Minister, Minister of Rural Development, State Chief Ministers to immediately put a halt to the unconstitutional and inhumane payment of less than the statutory minimum wage to the poorest workers of the country employed on the celebrated MGNREGA program.

Aruna Roy, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Hariom Soni, Moti Lal, Richa Odichya, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Ram Karan and R D Vyas, Naveen Narayan, Renuka Pamecha, Rawata Ram.
(On behalf of the Rozgar Evum Suchna ke Adhikar ka Abhiyan, Rajasthan)

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