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Stimulus measure to link pay to consumer price index with annual revision

Staring at a slump in demand and a slowdown in the rural economy, the Centre plans to inject more money into the UPA’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme by linking wages under the Act to an updated inflation index, which will be revised annually.

It hopes this will increase wages, thus increasing purchasing power and reviving rural demand.

However, some economists question whether linking wage rates to a better inflation index will be sufficient, given that MGNREGA workers are paid much lower than market rates.

The national average wage of an MGNREGA worker is ₹178.44 per day, less than half of the ₹375 per day minimum wage recommended by a Labour Ministry panel earlier this year.

Update of indices

In the first week of September, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the Labour Bureau informed the Rural Development Ministry that they had begun work to update the consumer price indices for rural areas (CPI-R) and agricultural labourers (CPI-AL) respectively.

“This has been a long-pending demand, but the case may be stronger now... This is one of the demand-side interventions that the government is carrying out in light of the current scenario in the rural economy,” said a senior official of the Rural Development Ministry, referencing the current slowdown.

Changed patterns

“The consumption basket of CPI-AL [which determines MGNREGA wage revisions] has not been updated for more than three decades, and rural consumption patterns have changed drastically in that time,” said the official. Food items make up more than two-thirds of the CPI-AL consumption basket, but rural workers today spend a much smaller percentage of their money on subsidised food, and an increasingly larger amount on health, education and transport costs.

Attacks come days before presidential poll

Deadly attack: A policeman at the site of a suicide attack in Parwan province of Afghanistan on Tuesday. APAP

Taliban suicide bombers killed 48 people in two separate attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the deadliest taking place near an election rally by President Ashraf Ghani, who escaped unhurt.

The attacks happened 11 days before the presidential election, which Taliban commanders have vowed to disrupt, and follow the collapsed talks between the U.S. and the insurgent group.

Gathering targeted

Mr. Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term in the September 28 election, was due to address a rally at Charikar, the capital of Parwan province, when a bomber attacked the gathering. The blast killed 26 people and wounded 42, said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

In the other incident, a man on foot blew himself up in the centre of the capital Kabul. Twenty-two people were killed, and 38 were wounded, the Ministry said.

In a statement claiming responsibility for the blasts, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack near Mr. Ghani’s rally was aimed at disrupting the election.

“We have already warned people not to attend election rallies. If they suffer any loss, that is their own responsibility,” it said.

They were earlier supporting the ruling party from outside

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot

In a major setback to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), all its six MLAs in Rajasthan joined the ruling Congress on Tuesday.

Now, the Congress’s tally in the 200-member Assembly has gone up to 106.

The merger came as a boost to the Congress ahead of the municipal elections in November.

The BSP MLAs, who were in touch with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for several days, handed over a letter informing Speaker C.P. Joshi of their legislature party’s merger with the Congress. Mr. Joshi accepted the letter and allowed the merger.

The MLAs were earlier supporting the Congress from outside after the party won 100 seats and its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, won one seat. One of them, Rajendra Gudha ((Udaipurwati), said they had taken the decision to ensure the “stability of the government” and work for the development of the State. The other 5 MLAs are Jogendra Singh Awana (Nadbai), Wajib Ali (Nagar), Lakhan Singh (Karauli), Sandeep Yadav (Tijara) and Deepchand (Kishangarh Bas).

A betrayal: Mayawati

BSP supremo Mayawati called the merger a betrayal of the BSP movement and accused the “untrustworthy” Congress of being anti-SC, anti-ST and anti-OBC.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the six BSP MLAs had merged with the Congress on their own.

Reacting to the criticism by Ms. Mayawati, Mr. Gehlot said the Congress had not managed the defection in any way. “Mayawati Ji’s reaction is natural... but it is a conscious decision of the BSP MLAs in the interest of the State and the electorate.”

On the sidelines of a function here, he said, “She should realise that her party is neither in government nor do they have a possibility to form a government in Rajasthan.” There was “no horse-trading” and the MLAs had taken a unanimous decision for the sake of political stability, so that “we can work together for the development of the State”.

The defection will not incur any disqualification because all the BSP MLAs have switched over to the Congress.

There has been speculation that the BJP was trying to lure the BSP and Independent MLAs in a bid to repeat a Karnataka-type upheaval in Rajasthan.

Mr. Gehlot said he was told that the BJP was offering up to ₹25 crore each to the Assembly members. “From where the BJP is getting so much money? They can go to any extent for their game plans.”

They are not illegal immigrants: police

Over 19 lakh people have been excluded from the NRC in Assam.

A mob allegedly made four persons undergo a ‘Bangladeshi test’ in Baksa district of Assam, and handed them over to the police after questioning their citizenship status.

The four, all Muslims, were returning from Guwahati to Suwagpur on September 13 in a pick-up truck with building materials. Some 50 local people allegedly stopped the vehicle at night and demanded proof of their inclusion in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

No ‘convincing’ replies

When the four failed to give “convincing” replies, the mob handed them over to the Goreswar police station, 60 km north of Guwahati. The police identified them as Sahid Miya and his wife Bimala Begum of Baksa district, Lalbor Ali of Barpeta and Abdul Qayum of Morigaon.

H. Goswami, officer in charge of the station, said the people suspected them to be Bangladeshis. “Upon verification, we found that they were not illegal immigrants,” he said.

There have been reports of mobs questioning “suspected foreigners” in the districts of eastern Assam such as Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.

Some NGOs in the neighbouring States have upped the ante against the NRC-excluded people believed to be sneaking in.

In Meghalaya, over 230 people from Assam have been turned back at checkpoints or told to leave worksites.

Lotus carvings on Kasauti pillars, figurines, Garuda flanked by two lions and a Dwarapal are not typical features of a mosque, the Supreme Court confronted the Muslim side in the Ayodhya hearing on Tuesday.

The questions from the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi were based on architectural features and photographs of materials believed to be unearthed from the Babri Masjid- Ramjanmabhumi site.

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