The recent decision of the government of Kerala to disallow workers above the age of 65 years from MGNREGA work sites in order to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic may result in a loss of livelihood for more than 4 lakh registered workers. If they are barred from sites of work that fall under the ambit of MGNREGA, they will not be able to return to work even after months of financial struggle and this will deprive them of their daily wages.
It was in the last month that the worksites under MGNREGA were once again opened and the government of Kerala set a bar of 60 years for being eligible to work on such work sites. Now the age bar has been made 65 years and the results are equally devastating for a large section of the population. This means that more than 4 lakh workers will be impacted by the decision and would thereby be left behind in the search for employment and wages under the MGNREGA scheme.
Sources in the state reveal that the decision will lead to the barring of more than one-fourth of the total workers in the state due to the age restrictions.
This decision was taken by the state government at a time when it is expecting a heavy rise in the number of coronavirus positive cases and has thereby contemplated upon the decision of a reverse quarantine method for making it compulsory for people in the vulnerable age group category to stay at home. The latest guidelines produced by the Centre also point at the significance of keeping certain sections of the population such as the elderly, pregnant women and children below the age of ten years within their homes, except for times when it becomes extremely necessary to go outside.
According to a report, in Kerala “Of the 16.54 lakh workers who were on the roll in the last fiscal, 4,03,965 were aged above 60. Of them, around 85 to 90 percent would be above 65. We have 11,000 people aged above 80.”
A large section of Kerala’s elderly people seek work under the MGNREGA. According to the Census 2011, Kerala has a total elderly population of 12.7% and 24% of all workers under MGNREGA are aged above 6o years.
MGNREGA officials say that there is a great demand of work under the scheme by the elderly in Kerala, but the government has made up its mind to keep them out of work so that they can keep indoors and stay safe from the infection.
But what is problematic is the fact that the work offered under MGNREGA was the only source of income for a large section of the elderly people registered under the scheme and therefore when the scheme turns its back at them, they are left with utter survival anxiety. Many among these elderly workers are also destitute and were completely dependent on the MGNREGA scheme.
But what is interesting to note is that, despite the state government’s decision there are many village panchayats that are allowing the elderly to get work under the MGNREGA to help them survive a major financial setback brought forward by the lockdown.