LIVELIHOOD OF AGRI-LABOUR IN PUNJAB: POLICY ISSUES
Capitalist development model of Punjab agriculture has squeezed the employment opportunities which displaced human labour in farm sector. As a result, agricultural labourers are pushed towards unemployment, under-employment and low earnings. A field survey of 180 agricultural labour households of the state during 2017-18 reveals that 80 per cent of these households were indebted. Their annual income from all sources was Rs 108404 against the debt amount of Rs 81470. In such a situation it is imperative to study the livelihood of agricultural labourers.
The compensation should be provided to all deceased labour families wherein suicide happened due to indebtedness or economic distress. The land related legal entitlements of these families should be ensured and the wage rates and actual working days should be enhanced. Moreover, the housing conditions, healthcare and education of the labour families must be improved.
As agricultural labour households are undergoing a process of transformation wherein they are leaving the agricultural wage market due to crisis-led push factors, there is a need to develop rural industrialisation with special emphasis on agro-based industries. For an enduring solution to their problems, the right to work and old age pension should be ensured for this working class.
Agricultural labourers play key role in the economic growth and development of the rural economy. Unfortunately, these labourers are always forgotten and overlooked in the economic policy paradigms of the state.
They have been passing through the phase of under-unemployment, low earnings and indebtedness. In such a situation, it is an important to address their problems and improve their livelihood.
INDEBTNESS BE ADDRESSED
First of all, the problem of indebtedness of agricultural labourers should be addressed. In Punjab, as much as 80 per cent of the agricultural labourers are indebted to the tune of Rs 81,470 per household.
Most of these households took loans from non-institutional sources, particularly from landlords. It is urgent to waive off the debt amount of formal as well as informal sources of credit. In future, these households should be provided loans from the institutional sources at low rates of interest with easy repayment facilities.
NO COMPENSATION FOR FAMILY OF FARM LABOURERS COMMITTING SUICIDE
Secondly, the large number agricultural labourers committed suicides during last two decades. The government of Punjab has formulated policy to provide relief in case of suicidal deaths of farmers and farm labourers due to indebtedness.
The policy included a compensation of Rs 3 lakh along with rehabilitation and preventive measures of support to the distressed family (GoP, 2015). But, the agricultural labour families in which suicide happened due economic distress are unable to get the compensation.
Even many families wherein suicide happened due to indebtedness are deprived of this compensation due to lack of some documents, like loan documents (particularly in case of non-institutional loans), post-mortem report, etc. as large number of labourers are unable to produce these documents due illiterate and many other reasons. Therefore, the compensation should be provided to all deceased labour families wherein suicide happened due to indebtedness or economic distress with the attestation of village panchayat.
NON-FARM WORK BE MADE AVAILABLE
Thirdly, as the employment situation of the agricultural labourers is very restricted and grim, the alternative employment through non-farm activities should be provided to these people. Moreover, MGNREGA scheme should be made effective by enhancing actual days of employment under this scheme from existing 100 days to 300 days annually for every worker. The prevailing wages in rural economy and MGNREGA scheme are not sufficient for the minimum desirable level of living. Therefore, these wage rates should be increased and an effectiveness of stipulated wage rates should be ensured and constantly enhanced.
ENTITLEMENT OF LANDLESS LABOURERS BE SAFEGUARDED
Fourthly, the land related legal entitlements of the landless labourers must be safeguarded. As per Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act, 1961, one-third of the cultivated common land should be leased-out to schedule castes/backward class.
But in practice they are being deprived of this right. Similarly, the Punjab Land Reforms Act, 1972 stipulates maximum permissible irrigated land owning of 7 hectares only but this is often defied as many farmers in the state owned more than the permissible limit of land. Therefore, it is urgent to distribute/ lease-out one-third of common property land and surplus land with the landlords, on nominal rates, among landless labourers to empower them with means to earn their livelihood.
DUE TO MONOCROPPING WORK OPPORTUNITIES HAVE SHRUNK
Fifthly, generally there is hue and cry over the increase in wage rates in the peak season in agriculture. Due to monocropping pattern of wheat and paddy, the work opportunities have squeezed.
As a result, the agricultural labour demand for higher wages, which are opposed by the farmers. This phenomenon was sharply happened during Covid-19, wherein the agricultural labourers demanded higher wages due to shifting of migrant labourers in the lockdown.
This act has created social tension in many villages, while large number of village panchayats have passed resolutions for fixation of wage rates. In such a situation, it is imperative that farm operation-wise wage rates should be fixed in such a manner that these workers may get desirable level of living. Sixthly, the housing conditions, healthcare and education of the labour families are in pathetic state. Therefore, the government should take effective steps through massive investment, institutional set up and policy initiatives for the improvement of living and working conditions of the rural labour class. Moreover, for organising social ceremonies, the community centres equipped with catering facilities should be set-up in every village of the state so that the working class can solemnize the minimum required social functions with their limited means.
LABOUR LEAVING AGRICULTURE
Lastly, the agricultural labour households are undergoing a process of transformation wherein they are leaving the agricultural wage market due to crisis led push factors. In such a situation it is important to make transformation through development-oriented pull factors. For this purpose, there is a need to develop rural industrialisation with special emphasis on agro-based industries.
This strategy will be useful for generating ample employment opportunities at their door-steps along with optimum use of time and local resources. For an enduring solution to their problems and healthy livings, the right to work and old age pension should be ensured for this working class.