Social Distancing is the phrase used most often by everyone, from the Prime Minister downwards. But is it really happening on the ground?
Not in Andhra Pradesh, says B Chakradhar, Social activist and researcher who works closely with NREGA workers and champions their cause. He points out that on Tuesday 24 March 2020, 7 lakh Mahatma Gandhi NREGA workers toiled in the hot sun. The only silver lining is that this was a drop from the 10 lakh who worked across the 13 districts of the state on 23 March and the 13 lakh who worked last Friday.
This number of 7 lakh worked in districts like Visakhapatnam and Prakasam, that were declared among the 75 lockdown districts in the country by the Central government
“After three cases of Covid19 were reported in Visakhapatnam, 32000 workers were sent back on Monday. But on Tuesday, 75500 reported for work on Tuesday. The drop across the state from 13 lakh last week to 7 lakh today could also be due to a local festival called `Kotta Amavasya’ that Telugus celebrate one day ahead of Ugadi, which is Telugu New Year day. Ugadi falls on 25 March,” says Chakradhar.
Why this is alarming is because no NREGA work can take place without physical contact. The kind of works undertaken include desilting of farm ponds, building percolation tanks and getting housesites ready to build homes under the housing scheme of the Andhra Pradesh government. The last mentioned programme was to be kickstarted on Ugadi but now the date has been indefinitely postponed.
To be fair to the state government, the Rural Development ministry circulated posters that tried to educate the workers on the necessity to maintain one metre distance from each other and be careful if anyone sneezes. But with work not stopping, these advisories have only cosmetic value.
“Workers too are reluctant to stop work because they need to finish their 100 mandays of work by 31 March. Also the larger problem is that compared to last financial year’s 58 days, the average employment created this year is 48 days,” says Chakradhar.
Under NREGA, each worker gets paid Rs 205 for seven and a half hours of work. A village in Prakasam district submitted a memorandum to the block officials refusing to work due to Corona. Chakradhar quoted a MGNREGA worker who told him “We have two choices – either die of hunger or die of Corona.”
“There are arrears to the tune of Rs 329 crore to paid to MGNREGA workers in Andhra Pradesh,” wrote retired IAS officer and former Union Energy secretary EAS Sarma to chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy on Tuesday.
“The state should immediately stop NREGA works and the Centre should pay NREGA wages for 50 days in advance,” demands Chakradhar. He also wants all NREGA workers to be enrolled in Building Construction Workers Welfare Board as it provides social security.
Categories: Andhra Pradesh