The onset of summer has resulted in the migration of landless agricultural labourers from the rural hinterland of Mysore, Mandya and Chamarajanagar districts to urban areas.
The extent of migration has been accentuated by the non-availability of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) coupled with the completion of harvesting and related agricultural work for the season in private farms.
Though there is no mechanism to ascertain the extent of migration, the Mandya unit president of the All-India Agricultural Workers' Union, Puttamadhu, told The Hindu that the migration was perceptible and widespread.
“Landless agricultural workers are heading towards urban centres such as Mysore and Bangalore in search of work to tide over the lean season while a significant number of workers are migrating to the Chamarajanagar-Tamil Nadu borders for employment in turmeric plantations.
Kodagu is another destination where they hope to find work in coffee plantations, while those moving to Bangalore and Mysore are eying the construction industry, he said.
The migration is reckoned to be seasonal and a majority of them return home once the pre-monsoon showers hit the region and the agricultural activity gains momentum.
In the meantime, lack of work under MNREGA has hit agricultural workers who are forced to make do with their meagre savings and look for alternatives such as rearing poultry to enhance their income.
Mr. Puttamadhu was categorical in saying that MNREGA had failed to stem migration by providing jobs as enunciated in the Act. “Migration to urban centres has not stopped though MNREGA, if properly implemented, could have averted this,” he said, blaming the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus for the Act's “failure”.
The objective of MNREGA was to provide at least 100 days of employment to eligible households in rural areas and the wages were fixed at Rs. 125 per day, which were to be paid within a fortnight of completing the work.
“In the absence of proper auditing, the work is allotted to contractors who use heavy earthmoving equipment and execute the works with minimum number of labourers, pocketing the wages meant for workers with job cards. The job cards are in the name of relatives and friends of contractors and, hence, cannot be proved as bogus and the auditors over look this aspect,” according to Mr. Puttamadhu.
Kurubur Shantha Kumar, president of Sugarcane Growers' Association, concurred with this view. He said, almost 70 per cent of the wages under MNREGA were pocketed by contractors and the well-to-do people in rural areas whose families have registered themselves as agricultural workers.
Mr. Puttamadhu cited an instance from Hittanahalli Koppal in Malavalli taluk where the landlords prevented the authorities from providing jobs under MNREGA during the agricultural season. The reason? Daily wages under MNREGA is Rs. 125 while private farms pay a maximum of Rs. 60 a day. Hence, workers opt for manual jobs under MNREGA.
The “nexus” was so strong that the work was postponed to help the landlords employ workers till the completion of the season at half the rate. Even though a few workers submitted Form Number 6 seeking employment under the Act, the officials refused to accept these, according to Mr. Puttamadhu.