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Labour pangs leave Punjab’s paddy farmers high and dry

The labour from Bihar and UP are in demand due to their efficiency.

punjab Updated: Jun 22, 2018 09:55 IST
Amarpal Singh and Sarbmeet Singh
Amarpal Singh and Sarbmeet Singh
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana/Muktsar
Punjab,paddy farmers,migrant labourers
Farmers say that fewer migrant labourers have come to Punjab due to better job opportunities back home.(HT Photo)

The paddy transplantation season has officially begun but Punjab’s farmers are spending more time at railway stations than in their fields. They’re waiting for the elusive migrant labourers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to begin sowing.

Jakseer Singh from Moga, who owns 75 acres, and needs at least 15 labourers to sow paddy is yet to find even one. “It’s been five days that I’m coming to the Ludhiana railway station early in morning and returning home empty-handed at night. I’ve even sent a relative to Bathinda station with the hope that he may find migrant labourers alighting there but there’s been no response yet,” he says.

Jakseer is among dozens of farmers from Sangrur, Moga, Ahmedgarh and Raikot who have been waiting for the migrant labourers at Ludhiana station for the past five days.

Last year, the farmers in Ludhiana said they paid the labourers Rs 2,200-Rs 2,400 per acre for transplanting paddy. This season, they have hiked the rate to Rs 3,000-Rs 3,500 per acre but it hasn’t got them labourers.

Another farmer, Shamsher Singh from Sangrur, says he wants to sow paddy in 35 acres and spent three days waiting for labour at Sirhind station. “I finally decided to come to Ludhiana, hoping I’d stand a better chance. It’s been two days but I’ve not met success. I’ve spent Rs 7,000 travelling to different stations,” he said.

The labour from Bihar and UP are in demand due to their efficiency. The farmers offer Rs 2,500-Rs 2,800 per acre to labour from Punjab but are willing to pay migrant labourers more than Rs 3,000 per acre. “We prefer migrants. Ten labourers from Punjab transplant a hectare of paddy in a day, while seven men from Bihar can do this in the same time,” says Joginder Singh, a farmer from Muktsar.

Job boom back home

The farmers say that fewer migrant labourers have come to Punjab due to job opportunities back home. Employment under social schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in native states are keeping the labourers busy.

“The state governments of Bihar and UP are providing permanent jobs to their people under different schemes such as MNREGA. Both states are improving their agriculture standards too due to which fewer people are migrating to Punjab,” says Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Kisan Club president Manpreet Singh Grewal.

The farmers have another grouse. They say that paddy sowing generally begins in Punjab in the first week of June, while their counterparts in Haryana sow the crop in the third week. This year, PAU experts and the state government asked Punjab’s farmers not to sow paddy before June 20 to check groundwater depletion. This, they say, has aggravated the problem.

Grewal, however, disagrees saying a gap of 15 days does not make a difference.

Sowing delayed

In Muktsar, transplantation has not started due to lack of labour.

The desperate farmers can be seen waiting for migrant labourers at stations in Muktsar, Mansa, Malout and Bathinda.

“Last year, the labour charged between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,200 for transplanting one acre. This year, we are paying between Rs 2,500 and Rs 2,800 an acre. The expense of their meals is also on us. On top of this, there has been no increase in paddy price,” says Baljeet Singh, a farmer from Mrar Kalan village.

First Published: Jun 22, 2018 09:54 IST