Lost labourers of Hosanagara

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“Inspired by my father, I came into farming as in my childhood, I saw him working in this farm rigorously producing paddy, areca, pepper and coconut. He used to instruct and assist the labourers how the work should be done. Around 10-15 people used to work in the eight acres of our land, though they were daily wagers but skilled. My father could completely depend on them as they were faithful and won’t join in any other work until the whole farming process is done,” recalls K. R Raghavenderrao of Hosanagara Taluk under Shimoga district that falls in the Western Ghats Range of South Karnataka. 

Hosanagara is facing a tough time as labourers in this area are gradually shifting to mining industry that lures them with better daily allowance of Rs 200-250/- compared to Rs 150/- which they earn from farming and other associated works. As they are not permanent in any work, fear of being sacked looms large on their fate always.

Raghavenderrao continues, “Now, the scenario has completely changed. Before I start any cultivation I have to keep in mind many things, the first and most important being the continuity of the labourers till the cultivation is over. As they have a tendency to leave at the middle of work and migrate to other cities for a better earning, which makes it too difficult for us to continue the process and fear of getting it delayed always haunts us. The only thing for solace is that they still work for eight hours which has not changed since my father’s time.”

Raaghavendra Rao is not the only the farm owner who is facing such difficulties. There are many like him who also is finding it tough to keep the cultivation process alive. 

Shortage of labourers has led to closing down of many industries in the taluk. Industries like rice and wheat can’t fetch more than one-two labourers nowadays, which results in huge debt and mounting losses forcing them to bring the shutter down eventually. The dearth in manpower often delays selling of unhusked paddy, wheat thereby pulling down the earning.

The experience of Anil MU reiterates the same picture.

The situation is alike in the neighboring taluks like Soraba, Shaikaripura and Basavan Bagewadi of Bijapur district.

“We need a sizable number of labourers during peak season but it’s tough to get them nowadays as cultivators with deep-pocket lure them away with more wages. But cultivators like us who can’t afford to pay high have to bank on two-three labourers which delays the process. We can’t blame them as everyone wants a better earning and as farms pay them more, it’s natural they will turn to them only. Sometimes, they stay away from working in the filed without notice to work in the farms for a better earning. If this trend continues, then the day is not far when owners like me have to work as labourer,” said B N Dhimani, who owns Sashikala Oil Mill, sensing the future of his mill.

Labourers’ illiteracy has added to the woes as those who are skilled and illiterate get more payed than the skilled but uneducated ones.

Sophia Sharon, who teaches Sociology at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, says, “The main reason for shortage of workers is, they get more opportunities in cities than in rural areas. Discrimination in pay has naturally lured them to mining fields.”

Dust, a hidden killer that emits from paddy, wheat files, has made many workers prone to allergy and many of them result in respiratory ailments, which another reason for switching the nature of work.

According to an article in The Wire, the Centre is planning to increase the farmers’ income by double as there has been a sharp fall in their earning owing to static production for long.

Now the question is what will be the takeaway for Hosanagara from the government’s plan? As the situation continues to be grim with fear of worsening further, local cultivators and mine owners have come up with an idea that every Gram Panchayat should set up industries and farmhouse so that people don’t have look for work in other places thereby assuring availability of labourers locally.

The Centre has floated many schemes for unemployed labourers with Prime Minister Rojgar Yojna (PMRJ) being one such that helps all educated employed youth getting a secure job. To be eligible for that, one has to be 18-year-old and a permanent resident of an area for three years.  

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), aimed at giving employment to rural people and ‘right to work’, has not seen a full-fledged implementation in many places with Hosanagara being one such ill-fated one. Workers under this ambitious scheme are never paid fully as middlemen usurp most of the payments. MGNREGA has been a futile scheme in Hosanagara, as the released fund gets stuck midway in hands of Panchayat officials and most of the workers remains poorly paid.

Priyachandran, a worker said,  “I have not got my payment of last eight months.”

The miffed laborers say they never get the allotted amount in full and that’s the reason they are leaning towards other factories for better pay.

As Hosanagara falls under forest cover, there is no scope for the industries to expand and therefore can’t increase their labour force. In short, they are in the horns of a dilemma.

Dearth of labour has forced the industries to completely rely on automation like machine cultivation. But incurring cost of buying and maintaining a machine has always been an uphill task compared to the easy availability of the manual labour and the yield in mechanized farming is far less than the manual one.

But it seems the future is of mechanized farming as it has been adopted in many places across the country.

A report in The Hindu, has stated that extreme shortage of labourers has led to quick and forceful adaption of mechanized farming and new experiments are being carried out to see which mechanism is suitable.

As Sharon says, the urban Bengaluru has already developed mechanized farming whereas it’s still underway in rural parts. Almost 40-45 percent have picked up mechanized farming in India and it’s gaining fast popularity in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Mechanized farming reduces dependency on human labour and time of cultivation.

To make Hosanagara a prospering taluk, there is an urgent need to raise number of labourers and implement the government schemes properly. Perennial problems of labourers can only be solved if ambitious schemes like MGNREGA, PMRJ witness their full-fledged implementations, and probably, we don’t have to see the mechanized farming is overtaking the pristine and most dependable human labour.

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