Paddy Sowing and Migrant Labourer in West Bengal

Gautam Kumar Das

Migrating agricultural labourer appear seasonally during the paddy sowing season in the districts known for paddy produce in West Bengal. They migrate in monsoon times for paddy sowing and during the winter for harvesting of paddy. This year required number of migrant labourer are not available for paddy sowing due to corona virus outbreak. They are generally tribal women from the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Bihar and the districts of Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram. Many tribal migrant women rely heavily on in-person for agricultural services in the state of West Bengal. The reduction in these services imposed during COVID-19 lock down social restrictions many migrant tribal women have been unable to earn money and send back to their loved-ones. In the absence of these labourer, paddy sowing has started in West Bengal and these operations will last for about a month or two. Thereafter, another variety of paddy sowing is undertaken which is expected to wrap up by July end. Paddy transplantation is a labour-intensive exercise and job needs migrant labourer.

This year only 2-3% of the required migrants are available for this work due to corona virus’s pandemic. Facing labour shortage, growers at many places have been trying to woo back the migrant labourer offering freebies and extra wages. Further, food grain stockists lost business having seen poor returns for crops due to corona virus lock down, though the central government has declared that they will provide 50% subsidy on the transportation of crops, fruits and vegetables if prices fall below the threshold levels. This subsidy is for storage and transportation of all fruits and vegetables where prices are below the average of 15% lower than last year prices.

Anyway, monsoon made a timely onset over Kolkata and other districts of West Bengal on 12th June. This state is well known for the paddy cultivation. The state has 5.8 million hectares under rice cultivation, which covers irrigated and rain-fed areas, with the average productivity of 206 tonnes/hectare. The major constraints in production are frequent floods and poor drainage, micro-nutrient deficiency, moderate to strong soil acidity and related nutrient constraints. The rice sowing in the rainy season is known as Aman in West Bengal. Paddy sowing of such variety of Aman cultivation is at present under the crisis due to lack of migrant labourer.

However, hundreds of migrant labourer arrived in West Bengal mostly from the southern states like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telegana including Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan due to lock down announced by the central government. After their arrival, villagers are keeping a strict vigil on their movements and after a fortnight stay in isolation, they have become the part of the villages of their own, but their savings have gradually been exhausted in three months duration of lock down at a stretch leaving them in an uncertain future. The migrant labourer are living in the village without earning a single penny, though they usually earn Rs 600-900 a day as skilled construction labour in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

The West Bengal government has announced an aid of Rs 1000 per month for the daily wage earners, but the migrant labourer are not certain how long the government would support them in such a way. They are now looking for work on daily wage basis, but such work is not available for them that lead to the local economy-burden. Further, they have no requisite skill for agriculture as they were away from their rural village for years where they were born and brought up. Districts including such villages produce huge quantity of rice in West Bengal. So, the migrant workers need have to know how the field is initially processed for rice cultivation and they have to observe first the fields are ploughed and then fertilizer is applied which is typically consists of cow dung and then the field is smoothed. The seeds are transplanted by hand and then through proper irrigation, the seeds are cultivated. Rice grows on a variety of soils like silts, loam and gravels. Over two-third of the production comes from Purba Medinipur, Purba Bardhaman, North and South 24 Parganas, Bankura, Birbhum, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur districts. The other producing districts are Howrha, Hugli, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Malda. As many as three crops called Aman, Aus and Boro are grown in a year in the state of West Bengal. For such three varieties of paddy, there might be plenty of works in agricultural farming.

Here is the question, whether the migrant labourer, having skill in construction, textiles, goldsmith works etc, are being able to do the work as they are forced to take up farming lacking requisite skill only for their source of livelihoods. They simply fear to take the challenge of such agricultural farming as they have never done such work before. Migrant labourer rushed to rural belt that leads to the sudden increase of labour supply, the present wages for agricultural work will certainly come down. Anyway, the crop grower and the migrant workers together will settle the process of paddy sowing immediately and amicably as the voice of the people is the voice of god.

Jun 24, 2020

 Gautam Kumar Das

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