Farmers clutching at straws

Parvesh Sharma

Punjab’s farmers are grappling with labour-related points in the course of the ongoing paddy-sowing season. Their losses are more likely to go up this 12 months as a pointy rise within the enter price is imminent.

“This time, paddy-sowing is quite challenging in view of the pandemic and the lockdown. We have to welcome returning migrants with garlands and sweets. The Central and state governments, besides farmers, should learn a lesson to counter such problems in future effectively,” says Rajpal Singh, a farmer from Mangwal village in Sangrur district.

Though many different farmers have introduced migrants again on particular buses from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Rajpal employed native labour at greater charges. Taking benefit of the exodus of migrants from Punjab to their native states, the native labourers have elevated their charges for paddy-sowing.

“Till last year, the per-acre rates of local labour were between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000, but this year these have increased to Rs 4,500-6,500 per acre,” stated Darshan Singh, a farmer from Majhi village.

Panchayats of many villages throughout the state have handed resolutions to repair wages of labourers, inflicting resentment amongst Dalit organisations.

“It’s wrong on the part of the panchayats to pass such illegal resolutions as labourers have the right to demand higher wages. It has become an ‘upper caste vs Dalit’ situation in many villages. The Punjab Government should take action against the panchayats which have passed such resolutions,” says Mukesh Malaud, zonal president of the Zameen Prapati Sangharsh Committee.

Some farmers employed rickshaw-pullers, rehriwalas and labourers who work within the non-farming sector as they charged lower than the native labour.

But the scarcity of labour has labored to the benefit of the Punjab Agriculture Department as a big variety of farmers have proven curiosity within the direct seeding of rice (DSR) this 12 months. A cross-section of the farmers admits that earlier they didn’t favor DSR as labour was accessible simply they usually had opted for the traditional strategy of handbook sowing of paddy.

“Officers of the Agriculture Department have been trying to promote DSR for the past many years. Despite knowing that it is cost-effective and helps in saving water, I did not use it. But this year, I have tried it as I did not want to get blackmailed by local labour,” says Karnail Singh, a farmer from Sunam.

“I tried to opt for DSR, but did not get a machine. The state government should address the shortage of machines,” says Deep Singh of Kanoi village.

The scarcity of labour and DSR machines has delayed the sowing of paddy in lots of villages. At some locations, farmers have take mortgage at greater charges to pay to the native labour. But there are numerous farmers who couldn’t prepare cash from banks or personal lenders they usually needed to borrow it from their kin.

“Covid-19 has made things worse for us. Though earlier also we faced financial problems, this year the situation is alarming. To arrange money for paddy transplantation, I had to borrow money from two of my relatives, who are doing government jobs. But they will also charge interest,” says Gurmeet Singh, a farmer from Bhawanigarh.

The hike within the value-added tax (VAT) on retail gasoline has raised petrol and diesel costs. It has additional angered farmers of Punjab they usually have demanded rapid rollback.

“Punjab’s farmers were already under a huge debt and Covid-19 has been back-breaking. But the government still wants to earn more by increasing VAT. The latest hike shows that the government has no sympathy for farmers,” alleges Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, common secretary, BKU (Ugrahan).

“The labour shortage created problems for farmers, but we provided them DSR machines on subsidy. We are redressing farmers’ complaints,” says Sutantar Kumar Airi, Director, Agriculture.

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