Rural agricultural workers in Madhya Pradesh (MP), which had gone for Assembly polls on Friday, get the lowest daily wages in the country, much below the national average.
According to data compiled by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in MP, male agricultural workers in rural areas got a daily wage of just Rs 229.2 while in Gujarat, which claims to be a model state, it worked out to Rs 241.9 in the year ended March 2023. The national average for the year was Rs 345.7.
If a rural farm worker gets work for 25 days in a month in MP, his monthly earning will be around Rs 5,730 per month which may not be sufficient to meet the household expenses of a family of four or five. However, a rural farm worker in Kerala, which pays the highest wage of Rs 764.3 per person among states, gets an average of Rs 19,107 for 25 days of work in a month. In the case of Gujarat, the monthly wage for a farm worker would have been around Rs 6,047.
As per a calculation by rating firm Crisil, the cost of a vegetarian thali was Rs 27.9 and non-vegetarian thali Rs 61.4 as of September this year. This means a family of five will have to shell out Rs 140 for a veg thali meal or Rs 8,400 per month.
While the financial year 2021-22 was bad for the rural economy with the Covid pandemic hitting the jobs and income levels, high inflation and interest rates played havoc in the fiscal 2022-23, hitting the rural demand.
Among other poorly paid states, in Uttar Pradesh, rural farm workers got an average daily wage of Rs 309.3 and Odisha Rs 285.1 in 2021-22. Male farm workers in Maharashtra, which boasts of being most industrialised state, got Rs 303.5 daily.
The high wages in Kerala have attracted farm workers from other poorly paid states with around 25 lakh migrant workers reportedly living in the state.
In Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), farm workers get an average wage of Rs 550.4, Himachal Pradesh Rs 473.3 and Tamil Nadu Rs 470 per person.
According to the RBI data, in the case of male non-agricultural workers, the lowest wage was in MP with an average wage of Rs 246.3 while Gujarat workers got a daily wage of Rs 273.1 and Tripura Rs 280.6 — all below the national average of Rs 348. On the other hand, Kerala again leads in non-agricultural workers’ daily wages with Rs 696.6 per person. Kerala was followed by J&K with Rs 517.9, Tamil Nadu Rs 481.5 and Haryana Rs 451 for the year ended March 2023.
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are again below the national average of Rs 393.3 in the case of rural male construction workers. Gujarat rural construction workers got an average wage of Rs 323.2, MP Rs 278.7 and Tripura Rs 286.1 per day during the fiscal ended March 2023.
However, daily wage for rural construction workers was Rs 852.5 in Kerala, Rs 534.5 in J&K, Rs 500.9 in Tamil Nadu and Rs 498.3 in Himachal Pradesh, as per the RBI data.
According to a Crisil study, rural income prospects remain dependent on the vagaries of weather.
“Increasing frequency of extreme weather events, therefore, remain a key monitorable. While lowering of demand for MGNREGA jobs is an encouraging sign for the rural economy from a job perspective, depressed wages are a matter of concern for rural demand,” it said. Rural jobs are dependent on agriculture which in turn is influenced by monsoon and rabi and kharif production. Real rural wage growth virtually stagnated in 2022-23 despite a visible uptick in economic activity. Although job demand under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) declined on a year-on-year basis, it still prevailed above the pre-pandemic level in 2022-23, indicating that the recovery, especially in the unorganised segment of the economy is not yet complete, according to the RBI’s Annual Report for 2022-23.
Wage growth for agricultural and non-agricultural labourers remained subdued during 2022-23, averaging 5.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent, respectively.
Nevertheless, there was an increase in the pace of wage growth for agricultural and non-agricultural labourers, reaching an intra-year peak of 7.7 per cent in January 2023 and 5.6 per cent in November 2022, respectively, before moderating in March 2023, RBI report said.