Landlady : From next week onwards try to come a little bit earlier a lot of work needs to be done.
Maid : Sorry Madam I forgot to tell you I will not be coming for work because I have enrolled myself in the 100 day job scheme (MNREGS).
Landlady : What is this how will I manage?
Maid : I cannot help it, what you are paying me as salary for a month I get it in a week under the scheme.
This above stated conversation between a Landlady and a maid at a house near Nagamalai Pudukottai, a suburb in the Madurai district, has become a common feature where the households get their domestic maids from the rural pockets.
The landlady while narrating this incident stated that it has become difficult to find out domestic helps and it becomes difficult as these jobs have become a seasonal affair because of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS).
However, on the other hand, MNREGS has been a kind of boon for the casual labourers in the rural areas especially the women who have largely benefited out of the scheme and were able to make choices of their own and have become less dependent on the males.
The scheme also has the income effect, where an increase in the paid income of a woman worker, consequently increases her ability to choose her consumption. The maid confirmed that she works in the scheme for six days a week and earn Rs.540. It took care of the ‘food problem' for at least a week or two and also provided her a choice on consumption.
Studies say that MNREGS is the largest employment guarantee scheme in the world, guaranteeing 100 days of paid work to a household. The scheme aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by providing unskilled manual work.
For a group of daily wage labourers who were working on an agricultural farm, the MNREGS has always been their first choice of work. They said that only when we do not have work under the scheme we go for agriculture labour.
Chitra (30) of Vadapalanji prefers working for the MNREGS rather than in the farms of the landlords, the job scheme not only gives her higher wages but it is also less time consuming. “We start our work at 8.30 a.m. and we finish it by 3.p.m., moreover many people come from our village and also the neighbouring villages, it provides us a chance to interact and help ourselves.”
However, the farm owner in Vadapalanji, Muthupandi says that the job scheme has destroyed agriculture, the scheme is not only a loss for the farm owner but also for the government as many of them are not engaged in productive labour, but sit idly and get money.
Refuting the charges of Muthupandi, Kaliammal (65) said, “We, the agricultural labourers would be happy if the government increases the work days, the work under MNREGS is not only less laborious but also provides us higher wages compared to that of agricultural labour.
Kaliammal complained that she is not receiving old age pension and moreover, she has to take care of herself and does not wish to be a burden on anyone and said, “thanks to the scheme I am still economically productive and have a bank account in my name and a tangible contribution.”
MNREGS has been slowly paralysing agriculture activities is the common complaint that one can hear from the land owners. Agriculture needs labour and MNREGS has pushed out the workers to dig stream and tank bunds for 100-day-work.
Kathiravan (47) who owns a cucumber farm at Vadapalanji said that the job scheme here has bypassed the real working classes among the rural labour force. The beneficiaries under the scheme here are actually not the real poor but individuals who have more than what is said to be hand-to-mouth existence.
“Workers from Vadapalanji, Vellaparaipatti, Thenpalanji,Muthupatti Sonaparai and Colony areas no more are interested in doing farm labour and this has affected agriculture.”
A few workers at Vellaparaipatti complained of non-payment of full wages to the labour, delays in payments and not assessing the accomplishment of the task given to individual worker for the day. Most of the female workers said that they were given a maximum of Rs.80 per day.
MNREGS is meant to be a legislation that generates employment, and empowers landless labour and the rural poor through additional employment at minimum wages. Poor and marginalised communities have also benefited through the development of common property assets.
Official sources said that the scheme has brought about changes in the lives of rural people in the villages at Tirumangalam, T. Kallupatti, Sedapatti and Kalligudi blocks.