Monday, February 15, 2010

Daily Roti Guaranteed

Traveling in Rajasthan and looking at the sights, at the good roads, all the mobile phone shops and the unending mineral water stalls, it is difficult to believe that there is very much poverty in the state.

One afternoon, we were wandering around the small town of Kolayat with its lotus-filled lake ringed by temples in the scorching sun, when I saw a big yellow sign painted on a wall.

The sign on the wall was actually an advertisement for the government’s Rural Employment Guaranteed Act - NREGA. (Note: I have since heard a lot of drawbacks about the scheme, but this post is not about that.) For anyone who's willing to do physical work, the scheme guarantees a daily wage.

The yellow sign listed out in tables, the quanta of physical work that had to be performed each day, and the pay for that amount of work.

People were required to dig the earth and create ditches. Per day, each person was required to dig a ditch 10 ft by 5 ft by 1 ft deep. For this work, they would be paid a total of 100 Rs. ($2). 30% would be deducted as tax at the source. So each person ended up earning Rs 70 for the whole day.

Women laborers were expected to do the same amount of work and they were paid the same as men. When it came to hard physical labor, there was no gender discrimination.

For us, just staying in comfortable hotels and eating three meals a day with a little bit of sightseeing itself seemed very tiring. During the day, the dry desert heat was enervating. I couldn’t even imagine the hardship of digging a ditch in this heat. And for removing 50 cubic feet of hard packed earth, they got 100 Rupees. This translates to a rate of 2 Rupees (4 cents) for each cubic foot that they cleared.

And I had been naively wondering if poverty was still around in Rajasthan.

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