Failing to meet their expenses from agriculture, farmers with small landholdings are opting it out of the occupation. Adding to their woes is the burden of growing loans, which forces them to sell parts of the land, rendering them landless sometimes.
Nacchatar Singh (44) from Aulakh village, who owned a small piece of land, left for Lebnan, an Arab country, eight years ago. "Before going abroad, I was running a karyana store in the village and had some land. I took loan to go abroad, but could not earn much there. For a year, I got no work and tried to save something. I could save about Rs 3 lakh all these years and in the meantime, my wife fell ill. She was diagnosed with cancer. All the money was spent on her treatment, but she died of the disease," says Nacchatar.
He has two daughters - the elder one has dropped out of Class 9. "I now work as a labourer as I do not have any source of income."
"I am worried about the future of my daughters and their marriage. As I belong to the Jatt community, I do have some land," says Nacchatar, adding that he cannot even benefit from government schemes. "We want the government to spare a thought about landless farmers by providing them facilities on the par with the reserved category."
There are many others like Nacchatar Singh, who have been rendered landless by circumstances. "About 10 to 15 families have turned landless in my village during the past decade," says Balwinder Singh Aulakh, president, Lok Chetna Manch, Aulakh. Now they have taken to other occupations such as driving and working as labourers. "Some farmers are reluctant work as labourers, though such opportunities are mostly available," said Aulakh.
Farmers, who possess 1 or 2 acres, are also finding it difficult to run household. They explore
options, but these too are insufficient to sustain their living.
The educated youth are either unemployed or under-employed. "I have two post graduate degrees, but worked as a lecturer in a BEd college for only about seven months. My wife, too, is unemployed," says Sukhmander Singh from Sarawan village, who belongs the farming community and has about 3 acres of land.
Having 3 acres of land, Happy from Niamiwala village has completed a three-year diploma in electrical engineering by spending over Rs 2 lakh, but now he finds it difficult to get a job. "I hardly get a job offer even for Rs 6,000 per month, which is insufficient to meet my expenses," he says.
Vijaypal (27), a graduate from Wara Daraka village, drives a school van for a small salary. He possesses a small landholding.
After he turned landless years ago, Seera from Kotsukhia village works as a daily wager and is satisfied with his earnings. "I sometimes earn about Rs 300-400 a day. It is better that taking land on lease. My brother has also joined me in this work." About three youth from Deviwala village have taken to driving school vans as their agriculture land fails to cater to their needs.
As per Mohar Singh Gill, a resident of Sirsari village, five families from the village have turned landless in the past decade.
The landless families and small farmers are trying to find other sources to raise their income. From buying agriculture machinery and giving it on rent to running a dairy farm, doing menial jobs and getting land on lease, they are doing it all to make ends meet. But there is small profit in these vocations due to tough competition.
"In the development model, small farmers are worst hit. Successive governments have failed to
provide any suitable alternative to accommodate farmers who have either small landholdings or have gone landless. The industry, which earlier existed in the state to absorb the unemployed youth, is also facing crisis and getting uprooted," said Umendra Dutt, executive director, Kheti Virasat Manch, Jaitu.
"Most of our economists, scientists and government want small farmers to do something else to add to their income, but the government has not provided them with any alternative, which is a must in the model of development to accommodate small farmers or landless ones into industry or business," he adds.