Parliamentary panel recommends extending job scheme to overcome labour shortage

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has recommended extension of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) to plantations to overcome labour shortage in the sector, particularly in Karnataka.

The 31-member panel, headed by Shanta Kumar, in its report titled ‘Performance of Plantation Sector – Tea and Coffee Industry’, suggested to the Union Commerce Ministry to extend the job scheme to coffee plantations to take up various works such as construction of water tanks, groundwater and soil management.

Coffee is a highly labour-intensive crop requiring about 400 man days per hectare per year for Arabica and 300 man days per hectare per year for Robusta.

The panel said, “There has been a serious shortage of workers in plantation areas due to employment opportunities generated by MNREGA and due to migration of workers to urban areas for better avenues. This has adversely affected the timely completion of certain critical operations, which is having an impact on production, productivity and quality of coffee.”

Shortage of labourers willing to work in the coffee estates and the poor quality of the workforce who are willing to work has also affected the plantation sector. The committee said the lackadaisical attitude of the growers towards labour welfare is also responsible for migration of labour from plantations.

In India, coffee is cultivated on about 4.1 lakh hectares, mainly confined to Karnataka (57 p.c.), Kerala (21 p.c.) and Tamil Nadu (8 p.c.), which form traditional coffee tracts. To a lesser extent, coffee is also grown in non-traditional areas like Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as well as the northeastern States.

To extend the job scheme to coffee plantations, the panel recommended to the Commerce Department to take up the matter with Union Ministry of Rural Development.

The former chairman of the Karnataka Planters’ Association, Marvin Rodrigues, told The Hindu that coffee estates have been facing severe shortage of labour. There was a need to undertake massive mechanisation to tackle labour problems.

“The committee is of the view that instead of withdrawing or suspending the MNREGA during harvesting season, it may rather be extended to works in coffee plantations.”

Tie up with IITs

The committee found that a majority of the machinery imported for the coffee industry is either exorbitantly priced or are not suited to local plantations. It suggested that the Coffee Board tie-up with IITs and other reputed institutions for development of indigenous technology for such machines.

The committee recommended that the department spruce up the functioning of the Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI), Chikmagalur, and add dynamism to it through collaboration and exchange programmes, with reputed national and international research institutes/universities so that the coffee industry could gain from the best practices available in the field.

“The scientists of the CCRI have been put on lower pay scales in comparison to their counterparts working in other national research laboratories despite their similar/comparable qualifications, duties and nature of work,” it said.

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