Costly labour, curbs on movement rock the boat for Mohali farmers in harvest season
His face covered with a white cloth, a sickle in his hands, Ashok Kumar from Uttar Pradesh is busy harvesting the wheat crop in Dayalpura village, Dera Bassi, for which he will be paid ₹400 per day with ration and food.
“Ghar ja nahi sakte thay, paise thay nahi jab se kaam band hai, so ab fasal kaat rahe hain (couldn’t go back home, didn’t have money, so now I am harvesting wheat),” said Ashok, who worked as a labourer at a construction site before the curfew was imposed. It was difficult for a few days but now they will be able to earn some money, he said.
He and scores of other migrant labourers have picked up the sickle to harvest wheat for landowners whose farm labour is not available owing to restrictions on movement from one state to another.
NO CHOICE BUT MANUAL HARVESTING
Amid complaints of high labour cost and restriction on movement, Mohali farmers have started harvesting crops. Farmers who earlier opted for combines now have no choice but to opt for manual harvesting as their labourers are not back yet. Where labour is not available at all, family members are picking up the sickle and toiling in the fields.
“In Dera Bassi and Zirakpur area, migrants are being employed to harvest wheat and they are doing it readily. Earlier, construction work was a priority for labourers due to better wages, but the curfew has stalled all work so the labour force is willing to harvest the crop. In return, farmers will pay them in cash or kind, depending on their agreement,” said Amrik Singh Malkhpur, a landholder in Malkpur village, Dera Bassi. He also said that social distancing was being maintained during manual harvesting.
Harpal Singh Sodhi of Dera Bassi owns land in Dayalpura and is facing trouble in going to his fields. “They don’t stop a tractor but moving on a two-wheeler is a complete no-no. The labour is charging ₹5,000 to ₹6,000 per acre along with ration. This will make it expensive for the farmer.”
Rajinder Singh Bhanojia, sarpanch of Bhanojia village in Mullanpur, said that construction labour was charging ₹400 per day along with ration. “Manual harvesting is slow and so the farmer will end up paying more. Combines will be allowed only after April 15,” he said.
COMBINES IN DAY TIME ONLY
Mohali deputy commissioner Girish Dayalan has issued orders that combine harvesters will be allowed to operate only from 6 am to 7 pm.
Pradeep Bhatnagar of Dera Bassi said that combines were available but restrictions in the use of combines will slow down harvesting. He said, “Farmers will have to spend more. With farm labour not available as they couldn’t return after Holi, farmers will face a tough time taking their grain to mandis. Migrants are available but they are asking a high price.”
The district administration will be issuing special passes indicating the date on which farmers will be entitled to carry their produce to the mandi. Social distancing norms will be strictly followed by the labour as well as the government staff at the mandis. Special steps are being taken to provide masks, sanitisers and soaps in all the mandis.