Migrant labour seems to be a very important and inseparable part of the economy, agriculture sector in particular, of the state. From paddy transplantation to fanning the crop with blowers and filling it up in bags, farmers depend on them.
The labourers also find the state a favourite place to earn their livelihood, particularly during the paddy and wheat seasons, while some of them also work as farm hands all the year around.
But coming to greener pastures - Punjab -- is not at all comfortable for them. "We have to face several difficulties to reach Punjab from our native villages," says Rajesh, member of a group of migratory labourers from Sitamari district of Bihar, while sitting near Bukan Singh Nagar village in Faridkot.
"As we set out for Punjab for paddy season before June 10, getting space in train is a big problem for us. A huge crowd is waiting to reach Punjab and there is not enough room in trains," the migrant labourer said.
"Though there are many trains, but most bogies are reserved and we find only two bogies, one each the rear and the front of train, for ourselves. The behaviour of the railway police is also insulting. Some policemen even try to extort money in one way or the other. Sometimes we had to pay up as we are not educated and make mistakes while boarding train," he added.
Despite facing hardships, they look optimistic to earn a handsome amount after spending about R700 on the train fare and meals. "We have been coming to Punjab for the past 20 years. We first transplant paddy, then get engaged in work with farmers till the crop matures and later work in the grain market after the paddy gets matured. But some of us return after paddy transplantation is over," say migrant labouers.
Though the group of migrant workers was all praise for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar for developmental works, they agree that all of them cannot find work in the home state.
"A lot of development is going on. We are getting most of the basic facilities such as housing under the Indira Aawas Yojana. Electricity poles have been erected and we will get power in our villages, but due to the dense population all of us do not get work under MGNREGA," they added.
According to them, paddy transplantation begins late back home and it mostly depends on the onset of rain. "Though there are big landlords, there are not many tubewells."
Farmers also find the migrant labour very helpful for them. "The migrant labour is an integral part of the economy of the state. They also do better transplantation than the local labourers because they are all men and there is uniformity in their work. On the other hand, Punjabi labour is a mix of women and children, which leads to dissimilarity in transplantation work," says Jaswinder Singh Brar of Ghania village.
"In the grain markets, the migrant labourers play a major role as they do most of the work. All the work of cleaning the produce (fanning by blowers) and then filling it in gunny bags is done by the migrant labour. Had there been no migrant labour in the markets, it would not have been possible for local workers to lift the produce," says Sanjay Mittal, joint secretary of Arhtiya Association, Kotkapura.
"Paddy is transplanted at my village, Dhilwan Kalan, mainly by the migrant labourers and then they move to other villagers after finishing work here. Even 10 to 15 migrant labourers also work with farmers on annual contracts," says Kala, a farmer.
Some farmers, however, prefer local labourers for the paddy transplantation, stating that the migrant labourers wash the roots of the saplings for the sake of fast transplantation. They start working before dawn and continue after sunset to earn more than the local labourers.
Farmers are, however, unanimous on one thing: If the migrant labour is not here, paddy transplantation is not possible. The transplantation rates range from R1,700 to R2,500 per acre, farmers say.