Labourers, small farmers trek to cities in search of work

“What else can we do without employment in this village? We have been promised work as construction labourers in Bangalore city and assured a place to live also,” said Lakshmi Kadimane, a Dalit agricultural labourer from Somnathhalli, a border village on the banks of the Bhima near Jewargi town.

Lakshmi and her husband, Ashok Kadimane, with daughters Ashwini (8) and Sharanamma (4), are leaving with bag and baggage. Asked about the education of her children, Ms. Kadimane said: “We have no other alternative but to discontinue, unless we can get admission in a school in Bangalore.”

The advent of the summer in the Hyderabad Karnataka region not only portends oppressive weather conditions, but also opens the floodgates of migration of agricultural labourers to cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Goa and Hyderabad in search of employment.

The drought situation — for three years in a row — has meant that not only landless labourers, but also small farmers leaving in hordes in search of jobs in cities.

The failure of the State government to draw up a contingency plan to take up employment-generating works during the summer under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) has been cited as the major reason for the large-scale migration.

Most of the migrants hail from rain-fed areas where there isn’t much work during the dry spell. In the irrigated belts, labourers are ensured work till April-end.

President of the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha, Maruti Manpade, said the government had contributed to the failure of the MNREGA by delaying payment of wages and closing its eyes to the indiscriminate use of machinery in the MNREGA, though it is banned.

The higher wages paid to construction labourers in bigger cities is also a factor which contributes to large-scale migration. While an agricultural labour is paid wages ranging from Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 a day in the villages, a construction labourer in bigger cities like Bangalore gets a minimum wage of more than Rs. 300 a day.

Somanna Malkanna, agricultural labourer from Khanadal village in Gulbarga taluk, who was migrating to Pune to work as a labourer in a brick kiln, said he too was forced to leave his village as there were no jobs in the village. “If I do not work, my entire family will starve,” he said.

Mr. Malkanna has been promised payment of Rs. 20,000 as yearly wages for working in the kiln.

Similar stories reverberate across all the deserted villages where its residents are in search of greener pastures.

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