Future looks bleak to farmhands in Madurai district

Declining jobs, fall in sales and police curbs take a toll on sector

Farm labourers in several parts of Madurai district have expressed relief over relaxation of norms by the State government in sanctioning work permits.

But the paddy season has passed and, hence, only a few have found jobs in fruit and vegetable farms. During summer, they say, cultivation is done mostly along Alanganallur, Palamedu and Sholavandan, where raw banana, coconut, papaya, guava and sapota are grown.

For instance, L. Kausalya from Thanichiyam in Alanganallur block works in a banana and coconut farm. At present, she earns enough wages to support her family of four. But if the markets do not open soon, her employers may not take up cultivation next season, leaving her jobless, she points out.

Also, the produce often do not reach the market due to lack of transportation and get wasted, she rues. No wonder, the future looks uncertain to her.

K. Mariselvam, who works in a guava plantation in Palamedu, contends that only a handful of landowners allow labourers to work in their fields in the wake of COVID-19. This reduces the opportunity to earn daily wage, he says.

The promulgation order on Section 144 has been another dampener.

Many labourers have to plead with police personnel stationed in their villages for passage. And efforts to prove that they are on their way to the fields result in loss of valuable time. “If we go late, someone else is engaged and I lose my day’s salary,” says N. Stalin Kumar, who earns around ₹400 a day.

All India Agricultural Workers Union district president V. Uma Maheshwaran says farmers have to spend a lot of money on inputs such as manure, fertilizers and seeds. Without sales, there is no scope for cultivation or hiring labour.

“Relief needs to come from the State government in the form of distributuion of more rations to the farmhands. At least a meagre amount of ₹500 must be given to each household to ease the burden. In this time of need, farmers are working to ensure that we have food on our plate. We too must help them,” he argues.

According to a senior Agriculture official, rations are being provided in a systematic manner at PDS shops across the district to ensure that labourers have enough food to last them through the lockdown.

An order from the State government clearly states that agricultural labour is now classified as essential services. “Hence, there must be no restrictions. Farm labourers must practise physical distancing. In case of issues, they can contact the block assistant director of the department,” the official adds.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 8:57:12 PM |

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