Schemes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, though hailed as a revolutionary initiative at ensuring decent livelihood for the unorganised labour, has brought about labour crunch in various sectors.

Coconut, coir and dairy are among the adversely affected sectors in the transformation of the labour system. It has become a practice for the labourers to join the team of workers scheduled under the MGNREGA scheme and turn to the coir sector whenever they are free, said a top official of Coir Board.

The impact is disastrous to the labour-intensive sector that survives on work orders from within the country and outside. The coir industry has been trying hard to make an international presence and the Coir Board has been trying to display products at consumer product exhibitions across the world. Failure to execute work orders from abroad could mean rapid erosion of export orders.

One of the victims of the migration of labour from traditional sectors to the job guarantee scheme is the Angamaly-based Sevashram, an apex organisation of about 100 self-help groups.

The occupation provided by the not-for-profit organisation had been the source of livelihood for tens of hundreds of families in the BPL category. But the situation changed for the worse after the advent of the MGNREGA, says Kuriakose. M., the head of the organisation, who had painstakingly united the hapless families under a Gandhian fold to make a variety of consumer products, mostly from coconuts, for rural and urban consumption.

A golden chapter in a story of rural sustenance is almost coming to an end, with the bankers who had extended aid for the projects of Sevashram closing in on the institution for delay in clearing the debts.

The dairy sector is another area where labour scarcity is threatening its existence. The milch animals are owned by those who are traditionally attached to dairying. New generation does not find the sector lucrative and entrepreneurs are hesitant to invest in the labour-intensive sector. The Union government, on the other hand, considers dairy sector as a business segment and has turned its back on the demand from the sector for including it in the MGNREGA scheme.

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