For the past 25 years, Pushpa Deokate has left her home at Kuranwadi village in the Beed district in Marathwada, in October. For the next few months, till April, she works as a sugarcane labourer in one of the many factories in the region or in the neighbouring western Maharashtra.
Pushpa and her husband, Lakshman, form a team (jodi in local parlance) that cuts cane in the fields, hauls and transports it to the sugar factory. For a day’s work, they can earn up to Rs 500; five months of this labour can help them earn Rs 50,000 (paid in advance), and eke out a living for a year.
This year, Pushpa and her husband, in their 50s, are staring at an uncertain future, which may push them pout of cane fields to mix cement at a construction site in Pune or Mumbai. As Beed faces one of its driest years so far, with rainfall less than 30% of the average 700mm, sugar factories in the district and a majority in Marathwada are not in a shape to crush cane or pay farmers.
Sugar factories in the whole of Maharashtra are staring at a bleak prospect this season. The result is that no factory has yet offered advance payments to the eight-lakh strong sugarcane labour force of Beed.
A majority of this labour force in the district could be left with little choice but to migrate to bigger cities. Besides, the sugarcane cutters, marginal farmers in Beed and the adjoining Osmanabad district – whose khariff crop has been completely wiped off – also being pushed out of their villages in search of work and water.
“By September, we get advance payments from contractors, who liason with sugar factories. This year, there is no advance payment. We cannot survive in the village as there is no work, very little water and little to eat. The only other option is to go searching for work in big cities,” said Pushpa.
In Pushpa’s Kuranwadi, a village that survives largely on subsistence farming, sugarcane labour and dairy business, distress migration has already began. “Around 100-150 people have left for Pune from our village, another 90 have gone to Andhra Pradesh. No sugar factory, not even in Karnataka, where many of our people go to, is offering advance payments. And, there is no work under the employment guarantee scheme (EGS) here. Villagers have been forced to sell their buffaloes to abbatoirs; the next step will be to leave,” said Devidas Deokate, former sarpanch of the village.
In the neighbouring villages, it’s the same story. “We will leave for Kondhwa in Pune in 15 days. I will be work as a helper to the contractor on a construction site and will be paid daily wages,” said Bansiram Lomte, a marginal farmer from Bawthane. In Osmanabad, migration has started from Bhoom taluka, also known for dairy business.
“My son has left for Pune to look for work. From our village, 30-40 men have left.There is no other option,” said Shokanta Talekar of Hardongri village in Osmanabad.
Activists blame govt
NGOs working on ground zero blame the government for failing to arrest the impact of the drought despite having schemes, policies and the funds to do so
“The real impact of the drought in Marathwada will be played out in the next eight months. Distress migrations have just begun; the phenomenon will be full-blown by the end of October. The government can arrest this easily with implementing the employment guarantee scheme effectively, but it is ridden with corruption, red tape and delays. The same goes for food security scheme; 10 % of the families in the region are currently eating once a day,” said Dr Dwarkadas Lohiya, founder of Manavlok, an NGO that has been working in Beed over the last three decades among the rural poor
‘Administration taking steps’
The district collector, Naval Kishore Ram, told HT, “I have asked tehsildars to find out whether distress migration has started and the extent of it. Beed has a traditional migrant labour force, this can’t be termed distress migration.”
Ram said the administration is geared up to provide work under EGS, foodgrains under food security scheme, and water to the affected villagers for the next eight months to arrest distress migration.