Job guarantee scheme causes labour shortage in Kerala

March 5th, 2008 - 6:22 pm ICT by admin  

Kozhikode, March 5 (IANS) The National Rural Employment Guaranty Scheme (NREGS) has triggered scarcity of farm labourers in Wayanad district of Kerala causing consternation among farmers. The farmers say the scheme has also resulted in a steep rise in wages in the district, which is in the grip of an agrarian crisis.

“I am finding it difficult to get labourers even for Rs.150 (per day). They are getting regular government work. It is impossible for me to provide regular work for a labourer,” said T. Varghese, a small farmer at Pulpalli in Wayanad, 500 km north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

“The labourers could not be blamed for quitting farms as they are getting regular work under NREGS,” he added.

However, according to officials, the NREGS alone is not responsible for labour shortage.

“The scheme may have caused a 25 percent shortage. It is the absence of migrant labourers that is the reason for shortage here. Labourers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are not to be seen in Wayanad now. All of them went back as there were good rains in their own villages last season. Also, about 10,000 tribal labourers from here left for Coorg (district in Karnataka) for ginger cultivation,” said C.V. Joy, the joint programme coordinator for NREGS in the district.

The farmers feel that the government should make some changes in the scheme so that farm hands are available during the harvest season.

“January and February is the time of the coffee harvest and there should be some changes in NREGS. The scheme also resulted in a sharp rise in wages,” Baby Kunnumpurath, a farmer at Mathamangalam in Wayanad, told IANS.

Joy said the government has now allowed stopping of work under NREGS between January and Feb 15 when coffee and pepper are harvested. To help small farmers, work is now being undertaken in farms under NREGS free of cost.

“Now it is allowed to take up work under NREGS in private farms. Workers cleared undergrowth in 275 hectares of private coffee plantations in Pozhuthana panchayat under NREGS to help the coffee harvest,” said Joy.

But this has not impressed farmers’ organisations. “The scheme should be modified so as to help farmers. Labour scarcity is a serious problem,” says Farmers’ Relief Forum (FRF) president A.C. Varkey.

On help being provided under NREGS, Varkey said: “It is happening only in a limited way.”

Under the scheme an equal daily wage of Rs.125 is given to both men and women. “The rise in wages is more apparent in case of women. They were getting only Rs.60-70 earlier. After the NREGS they are getting around Rs.100 for working in farms,” says Joy.

According to P. Krishnaprasad, legislator and central committee member of Kerala Karshaka Sangham, “The government has already initiated steps to cover private farms under NREGS to overcome the shortage of farm hands. The master plan for this is now being prepared based on watershed. The plan is now ready in Pozhuthana and Vythiri panchayat. Soon this will be implemented in whole district.”

Karshaka Sangham is a farmers’ organisation owing allegiance to the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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