Coronavirus lockdown | Too many aspirants for MGNREGS jobs

Some others, however, have found alternative opportunities like plumbing and fabrication and have a decent earning

May 31, 2020 10:02 pm | Updated 10:52 pm IST - HUBBALLI

Desilting of Anapur village tank taken up under MGNREGA in Yadgir of Karnataka on Sunday.

Desilting of Anapur village tank taken up under MGNREGA in Yadgir of Karnataka on Sunday.

As the COVID-19 induced reverse migration has brought many families to their native places in the northern districts of Karnataka, the onus is now on creating more person days under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme . While there are still problems at the ground level, the reality is that not all can find jobs under the scheme.

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The sheer magnitude of reverse migration makes it impossible for the administration to create jobs for all under a single scheme. While for a major chunk, MNREGA is the only help, not all are dependent on it as they are looking for other options.

During a reality check, it was found that some had found alternative jobs, while in some cases even graduates have turned to MNREGA for help. In contrast to the claim of officials, representatives of farmers organisations complained of corruption and non-cooperation at village level.

In Belagavi district, the officials say they are making extensive preparations to gainfully employ labourers who have returned from big cities through MNREGA. “Against an estimated 6,000 labourers who returned, we have issued 9,000 job cards in one month. We have clocked 90,000 person days per day till May 26,” said zilla panchayat chief executive officer K.V. Rajendra.

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According to CEO of Dharwad Zilla Panchahayat B.C. Sateesh, following lockdown the demand for job cards had increased and consequently they had added new works to be taken up under MNREGA. Navalgund Taluk Panchayat executive officer Pavitra Patil said MNREGA had helped workers who hitherto travelled to cities like Hubballi and Dharwad to find job at their village.

Problems remain

However, problems remain. Activists complain that village-level officials are not enthusiastic about the scheme. “Because of fear of COVID-19, most officials don’t want to start works in villages to avoid inspection or meeting the labourers. When people go to panchayat offices seeking work, they are sent back,” said Bharati Kadam, who runs Mahalakshmi Stree Sahaya Sangha.

Also read: Coronavirus | Lockdown hits NREGA workers hard

“Some officials say they are busy in COVID-related works like setting up quarantine centres or door-to-door health survey. They are not at all serious about this,” said Sharada Gopal of Jagruta Mahila Okkoota.

Grameena Koolikarara Sangha activist Vishweshvarayya Hiremath alleged of corruption. “In some villages, officials are demanding ₹20 per labourer to create nominal muster rolls. Five labourers together give ₹100 to the panchayat data entry operator or secretary and finalise their lists. Our complaints have gone in vain,” he said. When contacted, Dr. Rajendra said that all such complaints would be looked into.

Full coverage: Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

Alternative jobs

In Kalaburagi district, amid those waiting for job cards, several have found alternative opportunities. Pandu Chavan of Mahagaon tanda in Kalaburagi district, who worked as a construction labourer in Mumbai for the last 25 years, has now joined a construction site at Kamalanagar village along with his two sons and is earning ₹600 per day compared with the ₹700 he earned in Mumbai. But Pandu still prefers to return to Mumbai after lockdown as work is available ‘here’ only for 4-5 months.

Also read: How will govt. help migrant workers when it doesn’t have basic data about them: Cong.

Meanwhile, six families of migrants from Madki and Belkota tanda in Kalaburagi district have already found alternative jobs like electrical, plumbing and fabrication and have a decent earning.

Mahesh and Vinod from Ghat Hipparaga village in Basavakalyan taluk of Bidar district, who worked in a Pune hotel, now sells fruits. “We buy fruits directly from farmers and also sell them to commuters on the highway. We earn at least ₹500 to ₹700 per day after all expenses,” Mahesh said.

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According to Daulatrai Wadwadagi, a senior journalist in Muddebihal, the best option for migrant workers is MNREGA as only 20% of the workers could find jobs in stone quarries and in farm activities.

Doddappa Kubsad, who returned from Maharashtra, now works in a stone quarry which fetches him ₹800 per day. “At least I have a job now till I get chance to go back to Maharashtra,” he said.

Like Doddappa, there are people like Mailarappa, a native of Tippanahalli village in Shahpur taluk, who are waiting to return to Bengaluru.

Still waiting

But unlike them, there are many who are still struggling to get job cards and work. In Raichur and Yadgir districts, officials face a Herculean task with 60,756 and 43,008 migrant workers returning home, respectively. By May-end, the authorities had created 11,933 jobs in Raichur and had issued 4,303 new job cards. In Yadigir district, it was 13,284 jobs and 12,843 new job cards.

Also read: Coronavirus | Centre releases ₹4,431 crore to clear pending wages under MGNREGA

However, there is a data mismatch. An official pointed out that instead of considering only adults under MNREGA, all the members of migrant families had been included. And there are technical issues too, including inter-State documents and with several thousands still in institutional quarantine.

Graduates too work under the scheme

Haveri district has witnessed an unusual trend with even graduates and postgraduates volunteering to work under MNREGA without any inhibitions. “These people who worked in different private firms as sales personnel, clerks and accountants are now doing physical works under the scheme,” said CEO of Haveri Zilla Panchayat Ramesh Desai.

In the district, the pandemic has forced people like Dore Uppar from Kummur village in Byadgi taluk, a postgraduate who earlier worked for an NGO, Duddusab Tilavalli, a commerce graduate, and others to work under the scheme now for daily wages to support their families.

( With inputs from Rishikesh Bahadur Desai, Praveen Para, Ravikumar Naraboli, Firoz Rozindar, and Dinesh Nayak )

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