Their demand in northern states has gradually been declining in the last few years because the farmers are more and more relying on technology
Soroor Ahmed | Clarion India
PATNA — When the media coverage is focused on the agitation by farmers, especially those of Punjab and Haryana, the one section of society which fails to get any attention is a multitude of agricultural labourers of Bihar who had played a very crucial role in bringing about the Green Revolution in 1960s in North India.
These labourers have been travelling to Punjab, Haryana and western UP on a seasonal basis since late 1960s. A sizeable number of them are even settled in those places. Now they have undergone an occupational shift, too, as a large number of them are engaged in woollen and garment industries and in the construction sector.
Notwithstanding the mechanisation of agriculture, farm labourers from Bihar–and some from east UP and north Bengal, too–migrate to the north Indian states on a seasonal basis. Most of them travel ahead of the paddy season in late May and return to their homes by October. As paddy involves a huge number of labourers, they are in high demand. A fact which is not too much highlighted is that the farm labourers of these eastern states, especially Bihar, have played a significant role in rice production as Punjab and Haryana were earlier known more for wheat production.
In the post-paddy season of 2020, even as the farmers, especially of the northern part of the country, are on the warpath, the farm labourers are yet to recover from the lockdown imposed after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (covid).
Against the exodus of lakhs of people every year, three million labourers returned to Bihar this year from across the country after the imposition of lockdown on March 24–a big majority of them were those who had gone to north India.
Due to the lockdown, those who travel to these states on a seasonal basis at the end of May could not go out. The densely- populated trans-Ganga northern half of Bihar is the main supplier of labourers to the whole of country. This riverine region has fertile land. But the problem is of over-irrigation and massive flooding due to hundreds of rivers which emanate from the highland of Himalaya and criss-cross the entire plain.
This is one of the important reasons for the massive migration of the workforce from Bihar. Those hit the hardest this year were the farm labourers because they could not get alternative work in the industry-starved Bihar. Their demand in northern states has gradually been declining in the last few years because the farmers are more and more relying on technology. So, the younger generation of migrant labours was more engaged in other agriculture-related work such as driving tractors, harvesters, using transplanters, etc.
After the Green Revolution, a large number of farmers in Punjab and Haryana became somewhat prosperous. Some of them who have earned a lot invested in small and medium industries. Many younger-generation labourers have found jobs in them.
Now that the farmers, especially of north India, fear that the new farm legislations would affect them, the agriculture labourers are bound to be worried. They have already been hit hard this year and apprehend that things may not improve in the near future.
If the farm labourers are affected by the lockdown, the two-month-long ‘Rail Roko’ (Train Blockade) between September 24 and November 23 by Punjab farmers to be followed by the latest agitation have created serious hurdles on the travel of labourers from the eastern states, especially Bihar, who go to work ahead of the winter season in woollen garment and hosiery industries, mostly in Ludhiana, Dhariwal and Amritsar.
According to an estimate, more than two million labourers are engaged in this sector. There are 12,000 hosiery units in Ludhiana alone. Due to covid, the industry saw about 70 per cent fall in demand.
The problem with agriculture and industrial labourers from Bihar is that they cannot protest or share their own grievances. Even the state machinery, which was largely engaged in the just-concluded assembly elections, has hardly done anything to address these issues nor has the state government any long-term serious programme to accommodate them.
The media in Bihar, which is busy churning out political stories, will do well to look after this huge problem of newly-unemployed people of the state—the farm labourers.