With the paddy transplantation season set to start from June 10 across the state officially, farmers have started search for the labour and are making rounds of railway stations and bargaining hard with the migrant workers to fix the deal.
As the farmers had faced acute shortage of workforce in the last paddy season in the state, they are making sure that they do not have to face this situation this time, and in this attempt, for the past one week they have started the exercise to hire the workforce. With Bathinda being the main railway junction of the region, farmers from other districts such as Muktsar, Mansa and Moga too are visiting the railway station in search of migrant workers.
The shortage of labour last year has also resulted in the rise in wages this time. According to farmers, compared to average price of transplanting paddy saplings of `2,000 per acre, this time the rate has gone up to `2,500 per acre and some farmers are paying even more to ensure availability of workers well within time.
Gurmail Singh, a paddy grower from Lehra Mohabatt, who sows paddy over 15 acres of land, said he was coming to the city railway station in search of labour for the past four days, but has not yet succeeded in hiring workers.
“I am waiting for a train that will reach at 6 pm. A good number of migrant workers are expected to reach the city via this train. I will have to bargain with the workers. The problem is that for the past 2-3 years relatively, a lesser number of migrant workers are coming to the state during the paddy season. A big chunk of those are already hired. So, I will either have to offer them higher rates than others or have to bargain with those workers who are still free,” he said.
Another farmer Sukhraj Singh from Gidder village in Bathinda said that the labour shortage last year has made the farmers a bit wiser this year and they are trying to ensure labour availability in time this year. “But, how can farmers change the situation if a fewer migrant workers are coming to the state now,” he said.
Lakhs of migrant workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand come to Punjab in the paddy sowing season. However, the arrival of the labour has been shrinking in the state for the past few years and the availability of job avenues due to implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee act in their native states is considered one of main reasons behind this.
Also, the farmers’ disappointment with the mechanised transplantation has added to their problems. Manjit Singh, a paddy grower from Lehra Begga, said that the majority of farmers, who used the mechanised transplantation method, have been left disappointed, so manual transplantation is the only option now.
Director, agriculture, Dr Mangal Singh Sandhu, said, farmers, however, have not accepted the mechanised transplantation of paddy, the direct seeding of rice is catching up with them and the department will achieve the target of using this technique over 3 lakh hectares of land this season. Compared to 28.45 lakh hectare under paddy last year, the department is hopeful of reducing the area to 26.50 lakh hectares this year.