Even those well past 80 years of age have been enrolled in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Cuddalore district.

Naturally, a question will crop up in the mind as to how they could physically exert themselves and what kind of output could be expected of them.

The elderly people have virtually found shelter under the scheme because in the evening of their life, they feel the scheme would help them earn their livelihood in a decent and dignified manner.

Manual work is not new to them because that is what they have been doing from the prime of their youth, mostly as farm labourers. For most of them the scheme provides sustenance. For instance, at Nanamedu and Uchimedu in Cuddalore district of the 35 beneficiaries engaged in raising one of the banks of the Then Penniyar under the scheme 15 are above 60 years.

They included Poorani (65), Damayanthi (70), Dhanam (65), Mangavarthamma (70) and Lakshmi (70). Theirs is a tough life because they are not entitled to Old Age Pension. As officialdom is stickler to rules, pension has been denied to them on the plea that they have sons. Those having sons are automatically precluded from enjoying the benefits of the OAP. Ms. Damayanthi told this correspondent that her son could provide her with food but she could not depend on him for meeting other minor expenses such as buying betel nuts and leaves. This is why she has opted to enrol herself under the scheme.

The case of Poornima (55) is entirely different. She does not have any daughter or son to take care of her.

Therefore, she has to fend for herself and the job scheme has come as a much-needed support to her. What is unsettling them is the officials’ insistence that they dig out the mandatory quantity of soil, irrespective of the type of soil. Ms. Dhanam said that because of low wages many elderly women had ceased coming to work.

When contacted, Project Officer (DRDA) V. Mahendran said wages were being given proportionate to the completion of works for all age groups.

Only for the disabled persons the rules were relaxed: when they work for four hours, they would be entitled to full wages, as there is no quantum of work specified for them. As for the age factor, Mr. Mahendran said that under the scheme only those who had completed 18 years could be accommodated, but there was no upper age limit.