Fear of the pandemic halts MGNREGA work in villages

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Work under  the  MGNREGA has come to a halt in  44 out of 404 villages in Warangal due to the fear of a second wave and surge in Covid-19 cases.

Warangal: Due to the fear of the second wave of Covid-19 and the increase in Covid-19 cases in rural villages, a few gram panchayat secretaries in Warangal are stopping the work of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), even though the Telangana government is permitting the work during the lockdown. This is  adversely affecting the rural population who have been working under this for long. 

“I have been working under MGNREGA works for 10 years, but I cannot go to work now because the panchayat secretary of my village has stopped MGNREGA work due to fear of Coronavirus. Due to COVID-19, I went to work only five weeks in 2021, said Kanthamma, a homemaker in Nallabelly village, Warangal.

Sripadi Nageshwar, Additional Programme Officer, Wardhannpet Mandal said around 10 villages have stopped the MGNREGA works due to fear of Coronavirus. “We are requesting the people in rural villages to work under MGNREGA, but they are not coming to do the work,” he said. 

“It has been 20 days since we stopped the work of MGNREGA in  Nallabelly village in Warangal due to the second wave of the Covid-19. Around 20 cases were reported in my village so we requested the people to pause work until the cases are reduced,” said Birru Sudhakar, Panchayat secretary for Nallabelly village, Wardhannapet. 

A recent article shows that the number of cases in Telangana’s rural areas are drastically increasing amid the second wave of Covid-19 and isolation facilities are almost zero due to lack of room facilities in rural villages. 

Shekar, who lives in Ellanda and has been working under MGNREGA for five years said, “Some families in my village say they need work to survive in the time epidemic, but others say we do not need it because of the increase in Covid-19 cases. Since the village secretary has not resumed the work, I am facing many problems to survive daily, at least now I do not even have the money to pay off debts,” he said. 

However, around 1.85 crore people were offered work in May 2021 under MGNREGA which is 52 percent more than the number of jobs offered during the same period in May 2020, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Rural Development on May 17, 2021.

“As per government induced-lockdown guidelines, we are allowing a maximum of 40 workers at any place in the district but a few villagers are afraid of working amid the second wave of Covid-19. Due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in rural villages around 10 percent of villages stopped MGNREGA works in Warangal,” said Sampath, Warangal District Rural Development Officer (DRDO).

Bala Janakiraman, an economist based in Bangalore said that despite the government offering work under MGNREGA, to curb the second wave of Covid-19 cases and due to fear of the pandemic, some villagers in rural areas are stopping work. “Stopping work certainly affects families below the poverty line and families who cannot make money during Covid-19,” he said.