PUDUCHERRY: At the age of 70 years, Elumalai wearing a bunch of neem leaves on his head and a mask on his face is engaged in MNREGA work of deepening and strengthening the Malatar reservoir at Sorapet in Nettapakkam commune in Puducherry.
Braving the threat of COVID-19, summer heat and age, he is one among a good number of elderly workers who have come to work under MNREGA to sustain livelihood.
"I have to earn to get food. I get no other work. If I do not earn, there is no food. Need this work continuously," he said when asked why he has come for such hard fieldwork at this age.
Unfortunately, his children do not take care of him. He wards off the fear of corona by wearing neem leaves on his head, like many others engaged in the work.
Among the 6120 workers engaged in work under MNREGA in 35 villages which include the Ariyankuppam, Nettapakkam, Mannaadipet, Ossudu, Thirubuvanai, Bahour, Villianur, 50 per cent of the workers are elderly workers above 60 years, said ASPS Ravi Prakash, Secretary Rural Development and Project Director DRDA.
The resuming of MNREGA work has come as a blessing for the workers as they get no other work at their age.
They have come to sustain themselves ever since the work began earlier this week. In fact among the MNREGA workers, 90 per cent are women and only 10 percent are male.
"Despite being old, they are doing the work happily, sincerely and understand the value of work," said Ravi Prakash.
The government has raised the rate of wages to Rs 256 per day for one cubic metre of work, but most of them are unable to achieve it due to age, the hardness of the soil and weather conditions.
On average they make to Rs 200 to 210, he said.
The Rural Development department has sensitized them about the protection needed for coronavirus.
The department is providing mask and ensured that they come one by one and wash their hands with soap and water and after applying sanitisers start work.
Social distancing on the worksite is supervised by the Gram Rozgar Sevaks. Ravi Prakash himself goes on daily field visits to ensure everything is working well.
However, people in several villages have not come for MNREGA work out of fear of coronavirus.
Though the government wants to scale it up, some of the workers are frightened to come, said Ravi Prakash adding that awareness is being created on the safety measures being taken for MNREGA work.