The works under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) proves to be a balancing act in generating alternative jobs in the crisis-hit estate areas of Upputhara grama panchayat in Peerumade taluk of Idukki district.

The panchayat stood first in the Kattappana block for the two consecutive financial years in spending fund under MNREGA with a chunk of the total allocation went to the crisis-hit tea estate sector. For the past two years, the grama panchayat stood in the third position in allocating large amount of money under MNREGA in the district.

Of the Rs. 2.35 crore spent in the grama panchayat during the last financial year (2009-10), about Rs. 1 crore was spent in the estate area of Peerumade Tea Company, which remained closed for more than a decade since a crisis hit the tea plantation sector.

“It helped in providing large employment opportunity to the estate workers, who otherwise found no scope of an alternative source of income in the estate area,” Pius Joseph Puthiyath, the grama panchayat president told The Hindu on Saturday. He said that the largest segment of society benefited from the employment scheme was the estate workers, who consisted of the majority of nearly 2,000 workers who were employed under the job scheme.

“This was made possible due to the cooperation of the management of the abandoned estate by providing NOC for road works in the estate areas. Of the seven new road works undertaken under MNREGA, Chorackamuttu-Pattalampady, Kaithapathal-Kochu Karuntharuvi,and Mathayipara-Mannarathumuttam roads mainly pass through the estate areas,” he said and added that a majority of the people who completed over 50 days of work under MNREGA were workers in the estate sector.

Nearly 80 percent of the workers who benefited from MNREGA are women, Mr. Puthiyath said and added that the male workers seeking jobs outside the panchayat limit is attributed as a reason for low turn out of male workers.

In the estate areas, a large number of workers had either migrated to other districts especially in the construction sector or returned to their native places in Tamil Nadu. For the remaining workers who still live in the dilapidated estate lanes, no alternative works were available nearby when the estate was closed down. “In the estate areas, the only source of income is provided by the company,” he said and added that the remoteness of the estate areas deprive them from seeking other source of income.

The data available at the grama panchayat office shows that there was a marginal increase in the number of job opportunities generated to the estate workers during the last financial year from the previous year.

In the grama panchayat, which lies between Peerumade and Udumpanchola assembly constituencies, a large number of marginalised farmers also benefited from the job scheme. Upputhara is one of the earliest settlement areas where the largest tribal settlement in the Kattappana block - Kannampady- is also located.

Mr. Puthiyath said that the response in the tribal settlement areas was comparatively less (Rs. 5 lakh spent under MNREGA) and the main works undertaken there included digging of trenches between the forest and settled areas and road clearing works. He said that alternative works are available in the farm sector in tribal areas and in addition, the people from the area seek work outside the settlement. Especially during the lean season (non-cropping season), male workers from the tribal settlement migrate to other places is a reason for low response to the MNREGS among the tribals.

He said that the focus of works under MNREGA this year will be on watershed projects. “The grama panchayat has identified nine watershed projects and it will be completed this year,” he said.

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