Farmers in the Cauvery delta districts of Thanjavur and Tiruvarur have welcomed the government's announcement to consider not implementing Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) during agriculture seasons.

“This has been our demand and this will help overcome labour shortage for farm operations,” said a cross section of the farmers. Allocation for the MNREGS has been slashed down to Rs.36,000 crore this year from Rs. 40,000 crore last year. With most of the labourers opting for MNREGS work, there is acute labour shortage for taking up farming operations during Kuruvai and samba seasons. Labourers will be needed for transplantation, harvest, removing weeds and other works. With labour shortage, farmers depend upon machinery to tackle the labour shortfall. They have been demanding that the scheme should be dovetailed with farm operations or it should not be implemented during agriculture operations.

S. Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association, said that the government can consider blending MNRGES with farm operations. “If they allot Rs.100 under the scheme per day to the labour, agriculture operations can be undertaken by farmers. This will achieve twin objectives. Providing work as assured by the government to landless poor and providing labour to the farm operations. The labourers will also get over and above the NREGS amount”, Mr. Ranganathan said.

At present Rs.250 per day is paid for farm work to men and Rs.100 per day for women. Mr. Ranganathan, a former member of Tamil Nadu Farm Labourers Wage Commission, said that though removing the disparity between women and men in wages was discussed in 1985, it has not been implemented and the disparity continues. This also should be removed, he said.

There are nearly 12 lakh farm labourers in Thanjavur, Tirvarur and Nagapattinam districts. Women labourers are more in number compared to men in the delta districts.

“If Kuruvai and samba crops are raised in the delta, nearly 6 lakh labourers are needed for a day for farm work”, Mr. Ranganathan said.

Though direct farm works are not taken up under MNREGS currently, allied works like desilting of canals and tanks are being taken up.