Updated: April 20, 2020 8:12:46 am
As rural areas open for work on Monday, the issue of MGNREGA workers older than 65 years hangs in the balance, given the disproportionately high incidence of COVID-19 cases and deaths in this age group in the country.
The issue was flagged in a meeting of the Ministry of Rural Development with state officers handling MGNREGA for the post-April 20 situation. More than 93 lakh individuals of ages 61 and older avail of the benefit under MGNREGA.
The meeting, held on Friday over video, was chaired by Rural Development Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, and reviewed the schemes of the Rural Development Ministry in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was pointed out on behalf of Kerala and Uttar Pradesh that specific steps were being considered by them to ensure that persons above 65 years of age, and persons with co-morbidities are not engaged in rural development works. Other states and Union Territories may follow suit,” sources told The Indian Express.
“It is a challenging time, so the lives, safety, security and livelihoods of workers are of paramount importance,” an official said during the meeting, it is learnt.
A state official, who was part of the deliberations, told The Indian Express, “The Home Ministry’s guidelines clearly state that persons above 65 years of age and persons with co-morbidities and parents of children below the age of 5 may be encouraged to work from home. I do not know how this will work on the ground because a large number of MGNREGA workers are women and senior citizens.
“How will we check the co-morbidity of a worker?” the official asked.
The latest available data on the MGNREGA portal shows that out of a total 7.86 crore workers who availed of the rural job guarantee scheme in the 2019-20 financial year, nearly 90 lakh (11.38% of the total) were aged between 61 and 80 years, and another 3.9 lakh (0.5%) were older (See table). The two largest groups of MGNREGA workers were in the age groups of 41-50 (29.64%) and 31-40 (29.57%), according to the data.
On April 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued revised guidelines for the lockdown, permitting works under MGNREGA in areas outside the “containment zones”.
The order, which comes into effect on Monday, said: “MGNREGA works are allowed with strict implementation of social distancing and face mask.” The order means that community work will be allowed under MGNREGA now. After the lockdown began on March 24, only individual beneficiary-oriented works were allowed.
However, Annexure I of the MHA guidelines — National Directives for COVID-19 Management — says, “Persons above 65 years of age and persons with co-morbidities and parents of children below the age of 5 may be encouraged to work from home.”
“I don’t know how the work will happen on the MGNREGA work site on the ground. I cannot say anything at this stage,” the state official said.
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