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NREGS works cross Rs. 50 crore

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BREADWINNERS: NREGS has come as a boon to labourers, especially women.
BREADWINNERS: NREGS has come as a boon to labourers, especially women.

Shyam Ranganathan

Per-panchayat spending of Rs. 11.56 lakh is among the highest in the State

NAGAPATTINAM: With samba planting almost over in the district, villagers are turning back to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) for income.

Since rains are imminent, only some works like road laying and road strengthening are being taken up. But the number of panchayats with NREGS works going on has increased from 10 a couple of weeks ago to more than 150 now, says Project Officer, District Rural Development Agency, K. Arunmani.

The district, among the first where the NREGS became operational in 2006, has already spent Rs. 50 crore in works for this financial year.

The per-panchayat spending of Rs. 11.56 lakh is also among the highest in the State, Mr. Arunmani says.

The administration has been pro-active in promoting works under the scheme (generating 62.7 lakh person-hours this year) since Nagapattinam is primarily an agrarian district and employment for villagers is seasonal.

“I receive daily updates on the number of panchayats where work is going on, the number of people working, etc. and pass the details on to the Collector. This helps in keeping track of trends and problems,” he says.

Inspecting a site at the Kalamanallur panchayat where a road is being laid to the cremation ground, he says that the scheme has helped provide continuous income to agricultural labourers. “Asset creation is secondary, we are focused on employment guarantee,” he says.

Farmers in the district say that the guarantee has created a shortage of labour and an increase in labour cost smack in the middle of an agrarian crisis. “I have to pay at least Rs. 150 for a male labourer and Rs. 70 for a female labourer,” one farmer complains. But the women working on desilting a canal at Akkur panchayat are happy that they are getting good pay at last. In fact, women are the biggest supporters of the scheme with 80 per cent of all the person-hours generated by them, Mr. Arunmani says.

However, to ensure that farmers do not suffer from labour shortages, the district administration has advised panchayat presidents to restrict NREGS works during the farming seasons. This was the reason for the limited works undertaken until recently, officials say.

“When the rains come this month, there will be another reduction in the number of workers undertaken, slowly falling to zero. Then it will pick up and reach its peak in April-May,” Mr. Arunmani says.

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