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The Supreme Court on Monday reminded the central government that the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was a socially beneficial legislation and the government could not be seen as being reluctant in releasing funds for the scheme.

“It’s (MGNREGA) a piece of beneficial legislation. You should give it yourself instead of being seen as reluctant to give it,” said a bench of Justice Cyriac Joesph and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra.

Issuing notice on a petition by the central government challenging the Sep 27, 2011, order of the Karnataka High Court directing payment of Rs 145 as minimum wage to people employed under MGNREGA, the apex court said that the government should give minimum wages rather then citing budgetary constraints.

While asking the central government to bear the additional burden of Rs. 20 per worker per day for paying them the minimum wage of Rs.145, the court stayed the operation of the high court judgment on the payment of arrears from Jan 1, 2009 till Sep 27, 2009.

However, the apex court refused to stay the operation of the judgment for now. At present, Rs 125 is being paid to those working under the MGNREGA.

Holding that the wage structure was decided based on the consumer price index, Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman told the court that the financial implication of the high court judgment was about Rs.7,500 crore and would have implications in other states.

Even as Nariman focused on the financial implications and budgetary constraints, the court said that entire matter should not be treated in an adversarial manner, and asked the solicitor general to resolve the issue in an accommodating manner.

The court gave the respondent, Karnataka Prantya Raita Sangh and others, two weeks time to file reply to the central government’s petition and a week’s time to the government to file its rejoinder and directed the listing of the matter for detailed arguments after three weeks.

Appearing for the Karnataka Prantya Raita Sangh, senior counsel Anil Divan pointed out it was settled position for the last 27 years that non-payment of minimum wages was tantamount to forced labour. He cited three apex court judgments in support of his contention.



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