The youngsters have enrolled as unskilled labourers and earn close to Rs 300 per day.

Young men clearing bushes while working under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act Six people in the photo are carrying a hoe and are cutting down wild growth in the plot
Coronavirus Employment Tuesday, July 21, 2020 - 14:23

A group of youngsters in Meppayur panchayat in Kerala’s Kozhikode district have become the talk of the town after turning to an unusual employment option. For the past 12 days, these 14 youngsters, including graduates, engineering and diploma students, have been working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). At a time when hundreds of people, including professionals, have been left jobless due to the pandemic, this act has set an example for many.

All of them have enrolled as unskilled labourers and earn close to Rs 300 per day. The youth are happy about it, considering that they would otherwise have been sitting idle at home during the lockdown.

Under MGNREGA, a rural household gets 100 days of guaranteed wage employment.

Twenty-year-old Athul Krishna, a Commerce graduate, is one among the youngsters. “When I first started going for the thozhilurap (work under MGNREGA), some of our neighbours were perplexed to see me leaving my house everyday carrying a hoe. After a few days went by, most of the people in the area understood that we were working in thozhilurap and now look up to us,” says Athul.

Though some of the youngsters in the group used to do part-time jobs earlier, due to lockdown that is also not possible now.

“I used to go for catering work, but because no functions are allowed at present, there is no work. My father also can’t work regularly due to lockdown constraints. Considering this, MGNREGA is a great opportunity. Moreover, if I can save some money from this, I can also use that to enrol in any course after this is over,” says 21-year-old Akhil CM, who recently graduated in Computer Applications.

Akhil adds that the work has become like a workout for him. “Doing physical activity also has the benefit of keeping me fit,” he says.

The youngsters who are all friends and acquaintances got the idea to turn to MGNREGA from one of their mothers. “It was one of our friend’s mothers who recently suggested enrolling in MGNREGA. We hadn’t thought about it before but then it seemed like a good idea and then we got enrolled,” says 22-year-old Arun, a final year student at College of Engineering (CET) in Thiruvananthapuram.

A good employment option during lockdown

According to MGNREGA officials in Kozhikode district, many such youngsters from various panchayats have enrolled in the scheme following the commencement of lockdown. And one of the reasons for this, the officials say, is the active ground level public awareness created by the district MGNREGA programme staff.

“It’s for the first time that we’re witnessing people in the age group of 18 to 30 enrolling for the scheme. It’s a very good opportunity considering the sheer number of people who have been left income-less after losing jobs due to many reasons,” says Muhammed Ja, Joint Programme Coordinator in Kozhikode.

He says that the wage, which was Rs 271 per day earlier, was raised by the Central government to Rs 291 for unskilled workers from April.

“Usually, there is a misconception that doing MGNREGA work does not amount to anything. But actually that is not true. Many productive jobs have been accomplished with the help of MGNREGA workers here, like construction of houses, farmlands, etc.,” adds Muhammed.

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