PATNA: In Bihar, about 90% of Rabi crops have been harvested in the last one week, thanks to the surplus number of labourers, says Nawal Kishore Singh, a farmer from Muzaffarpur district. The daily wages have also come down from Rs 450 to Rs 300 to 350, he further adds.
At a time when states like Punjab and Haryana are facing an acute shortage of seasonal skilled or unskilled labourers because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Bihar seems to have more than needed daily wagers.
As per the official figures, around 1.80 lakh migrant workers have returned to Bihar till April 2. "Over 50% of them have returned to their homes, completed their formal quarantine and engaged themselves in the harvesting of Rabi crops. They also follow the set norms of social distancing. As a result of their involvement, around 90% of wheat and other Rabi crops have been completed within a week," said Pramod Kumar Rai, a tractor owner.
While in 2019, the harvesting of the Rabi crops took 22 days, a week was enough in 2020 for the same process. As per the official figures, Rabi crops were standing on 21,21,218 hectares of land with an estimated 6183.467 MT yielding of crops.
Sudhir Kumar Shukla, secretary of (Late) Kanhaiya Shukla Social Research and Development Organisation tells The New Indian Express, "After a long time, Bihar is seeing a surplus of labourers after 1.80 migrants managed to return to the state amid the lockdown. Despite loss of wages, the labour forces rose to more than adequate strength to complete the harvesting in the fastest-ever pace."
According to the state labour department, around 17 lakh labourers and migrants from Bihar are still stranded in other states due to lockdown. "If they come after the lockdown as anticipated, Bihar will have little fewer employment opportunities for the surplus manpower. The Bihar government will have to make mega plans for employing them, otherwise, they are likely to take to illegal means for survival," Shukla said while quoting economist Jean Drez. Drez had highlighted the issue of engaging the migrants as the biggest worry for Bihar government.
"Better to die in Bihar than being hoodwinked and harassed in other states," says Dinesh Kumar who returned from Haryana, further adding that 30 more persons like him have vowed to never migrate to other states after having faced problems amid the lockdown.
To ease their burden, the Bihar Government has given relaxation in the lockdown and started engaging them in works like anti-erosion, flood protection and NREGA works as soon as they relived of from harvesting works. The agriculture, water resources, industry and labour departments have chalked out plans to make employment opportunities available for nearly 4.5 lakh labourers.
Sanjay Kumar Jha, minister of Water Resource Department, said that more than 5000 labourers have been engaged in flood protection works besides 3 lakh labourers, freed from harvesting and other small agro works, are being engaged in MNREGA schemes now.
According to Vijay Kumar Sinha, minister of State labour resources department, fixed wages are given to the labourers in government sectors while no complaint related to low wage has been reported from private sectors and agro fields.
When asked, Mrityunjay Kumar, a labour contractor of Patna, said that only 10 to15% of labourers now would like to go to other states after the COVID 19 outbreak. "Bihar will have more workers than other states now as the majority of migrants are sounding changed and saying they will work towards developing Bihar like Punjab, Haryana and Delhi," he said.
A senior bureaucrat anonymously said that government has realised it and is leaving no stone unturned to engage their working forces for the betterment of the state. "That's why relaxations in agriculture, industry and labour oriented sectors have been given amid the lockdown," he opined.