*Last week, automobile engineer Krishnakumar K P started work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme at Thottapuzhassery village in Pathanamthitta. “This is the only work available. I have been planting saplings,” says the 23-year-old who lost his job with a local dealer.
*Five graduates have enrolled for work under the scheme at Azhiyur village in Kozhikode — the first time that men have signed up here. “This panchayat had 1,537 workers earlier, all women,” says an official.
*C Ramachandran, the president of Bedadka panchayat in Kasaragod, says they have started a campaign for youths, who have lost their jobs, to enrol. “Four of them joined last week,’’ he says.
IN THE villages of Kerala, NREGS was widely seen as the “last resort for elderly women” with no other source of income. But four months into the Covid crisis, with no money in households and no jobs in cities, the rural job scheme has become a lifeline for educated youngsters, cutting across age and gender lines.
“A new trend has emerged. Usually, about 91 per cent of the workforce are women, most of them aged above 40. Now, many young men and women have started working under the scheme. Many of them have enrolled for work using job cards issued to their mothers or other family members,’’ says a senior official at the MGNREGS State Mission.
“Over 30,000 households in the state have been newly added to the scheme in the last two months. There is still demand for job cards from all districts,” says the official.
Officials point to several numbers that signal this trend:
* Many villages are in containment zones but the daily NREGS turnout in the state was 6 lakh last week, and 6.40 lakh a few weeks ago. Last monsoon, the average turnout was 5-5.50 lakh.
* The average days of employment provided per household across last fiscal was 55.73. This time, even though the scheme is yet to be fully operational due to Covid curbs, that figure is already 18.26.
* Just three months into this fiscal, 82 households have completed the 100 days of work marked for the entire financial year. “Several families have completed 60-90 days. Normally, the limit is reached towards the second half of a fiscal,’’ says an official.
“Those aged above 65 are kept out due to Covid norms. Yet, the daily turnout has gone up, which shows that more youngsters, or those in the working age group, have stepped in,’’ says the official.
Most queries for work are from those who were employed in the service and construction sectors, according to feedback from NREGS field staff. “Many establishments are deploying only a section of workers. The lack of public transport in rural areas, even after the lockdown restrictions were eased, has led to loss of jobs among many who used to commute to urban areas for work in shops or other small ventures,’’ says another official.
Apart from availability of work in their own village, what makes the scheme attractive now is that wages are credited within two weeks with the Centre releasing funds much faster, say sources. In the past, they say, the payment of wages used to be delayed for months.
In Pathanamthitta, K Bibin (23), who lost his job with a financial firm in Kochi, says, “I already have 12 days of work to my credit, and have received money for four days at Rs 291 per day. Now, my friends are keen to join.’’
Krishnakumar, who completed his engineering course in a local college, says, “Many youngsters in my village were reluctant to join because the scheme had the tag of being the last resort for elderly women. But now, I have decided that until another job comes my way, I will stay with NREGS.’’
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