Though Tiruchi district has bagged an award for its implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in the area of habitation-based planning and record keeping, basic questions with regard to the scheme still remain unanswered.

Thanks to the scheme , availability of labour for agricultural operations and their wage component have acquired greater prominence . Not an agriculturists’ grievances day passes without this issue being mentioned.

The major impact of the programme has been on the wage component. This year it has shot up by more than 100 per cent in case of male workers and at least 50 to 75 per cent in case of female workers. The non-availability of labour has led to bitter bargaining as well. Ultimately, this has led to mechanisation.

However, farmers themselves admit that without the programme, several areas would have witnessed farm labour unrest. The failure of southwest and northeast monsoons and Karnataka’s refusal to adhere to the directions of Cauvery Monitoring Committee has effectively plugged the flow of work for farm labourers.

Unlike other parts of the Cauvery delta where paddy is virtually the only crop – Tiruchi has less paddy area but more annual crops, including banana, sugarcane, and betel vines.

The labour requirement for banana is very high, points out G.Ajeethan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Banana Growers’ Federation.

Rajachidambaram, State general secretary, Tamilaga Vivasayigal Sangham, says that in almost every part of the district, there is shortage of labour – be it paddy, sugarcane, banana, ‘korai,’ betel vines or jasmine.

Even though Ayilai Sivasuiryan, Tiruchi district secretary, Tamil Nadu Vivsayigal Sangham, does not find fault with the programme, he says there is enormous scope for improvement in implementation. For allowing MGNREGS works to be taken up in lands belonging to small and marginal farmers, 50 per cent of wages can be borne by this category of farmers. In respect of big farmers, it is for them to pay wages fully.

Of the total 3,89,620 households in Tiruchi district, 2,80,903 (72 per cent) have registered themselves for the employment programme. Total number of individuals registered is more than 4.45 lakh.

For the current financial year, Rs.175 crore was allocated for 4,593 works. So far, wages to the tune of Rs.131 crore had been paid benefiting more than 2.91 lakh persons. As many as 15,926 households had been provided 100 days employment and the average wage rate was Rs.99 per day.