CHANDIGARH: The paddy transplantation season begins in Punjab on July 13 but a shortage of labourers has hit the farmers hard. Landowners are spending more time at the railway stations trying hard to woo migrant labourers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, often at a huge cost. Yet, there are few to be found.
In fact, farmers are offering an unheard of Rs 3,000 to Rs 3,500 per acre as labour charges this season, besides free rations, room with TV, cooler and fridge to make the labourers feel welcome. But there are few takers. Balbir Singh Rajewal, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union said, “There is close to 35% labour shortage this season. Last year around 1.50 lakh labourers came from Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. This time it is not even a lakh.”
“If one is paying around Rs 2,800 per acre then the labourer is entitled to free rations. They are mostly recruited in groups of 10-15 men. Rations mean additional cost on vegetables, rice, wheat, spices, lintels, tea, milk etc. It is a long list. Once paddy translation is over, 50% of labourers stay back to work in grain markets and in maize fields,’’ he said.
Omkar Singh of BKU says, “The farmers are paying through their nose as scarcity has led to many offering unheard of rates this season, besides living facilities.” Farmers believe the better implementation of Centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) has caused labour shortage as the money they get is higher.
Many farmers of Patiala, Sangrur, Moga, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and other places admit having parked themselves at railway stations to bargain with detraining labourers.“We have no choice but to agree to whatever they demand. After all, one would be left with nothing once the transplantation season is over”, said farmer Sukhdev Singh from Mansa.