In a 1957 Bollywood classic Naya Daur, man battles machine and prevails. But in the canal irrigated areas of Madhya Pradesh, manual labourers are losing to a combine harvester, a rapid harvesting machine.
Combine harvesters that first made their appearance in the 1960s turned out to be more economical and efficient ways of harvesting crops and then on they began to challenge the manual labour.
Now the situation has come to such a passé that the manual labour has been driven out of the fields to the extent that there is scarcity of the manual labour.
This year, untimely rain during the harvesting season played a villain against the manual labour too by indirectly forcing the farmers to choose the combine harvester for a speedy harvest.
A combine completes harvesting in a tenth of the time taken manually. Besides, combines, tractor mounted machine harvesters have dominated the scene for past five years.
An increase in the demand for combines (machines) has in turn hiked their rates by as much as 30% at the beginning of the season.
While last year combine harvesters charged Rs 700 per tank (standard tank being 20 quintals of wheat), this year they are charging Rs 900-1000 per tank.
In an unheard of practice, the 'combine' owners are also demanding payment on the basis of areas harvested as against the established practice of charging on the basis of output.
"Wheat procurement prices are down from Rs 1,550 last year to Rs 1450 this year. Output is down by 30% owing to shriveling of grain and now combine owners have ganged up to charge exorbitantly. Farm income will reduce further," said Sanjay Thakur, a farmer of Kolua village on the outskirts of Bhopal.
"There is no reason for the combine harvesters to hike their rates this year. Diesel prices and wheat prices are both lower than the last year's," he added.
Interestingly, most of the combine harvesters at work in MP are from Punjab. The income earned by them will also go to another state.
"There has been a substantial shift of farm labourers to semi-skilled and skilled jobs. In such a situation, mechanisation is something that was bound to happen," said principal secretary, agriculture Rajesh Rajora, while explaining the shift from manual harvesting to combine harvesting.