D. Chandra Bhaskar Rao

KHAMMAM: Vacation brings blissful respite to schoolchildren. But their peers in the tribal hamlets of Khammam seem to be an exception. A majority of them are bound for the cotton fields these days, thanks to the acute scarcity of farm workers.

Sridevi, a seventh standard student was back to her parents at Vinobhanagar from the welfare hostel for the 10-day Dasara vacation. She joined the children in the neighbourhood for working on cotton fields. She reaches the cotton field at 10 am and gathers cotton from the bursting pods till evening. Like all the children in her age group of 10 to 14, she is paid a wage of Rs 50 a day.

Nearly 17 children from the village were engaged in cotton picking. Work on the cotton fields was not new for many of them. They often work before and after the school hours and help their parents out. But this time they are engaged in paid work. Tractors were engaged in picking up children from the villages. They work for low wages.

Cotton picking is much more an easier job for the deft hands. They could move swiftly in the fields reaching out to every pod. Some families are engaged in work on contract and in such cases the number of children available in the family matters much. Many of the farmers were taking labourers from the neighbouring Chattisgarh also.

The non-availability of workers was due to the fact that the area under cotton was up by three times. It could be little over 2.6 lakh acres in the district and nearly 90 per cent of the cotton was of Bt variety. The vigorous implementation of the NREP resulted in pushing up the wage considerably and hence the farmers are looking for some cheaper options.

It is feared that the cotton picking, as its gains momentum, would have its bearing on the attendance of children in the rural schools.