Reverse migration of workers hits plantation sector hard in Karnataka

At least half of the 5 lakh odd migrant labourers in plantation sector hail from north and North East

Farmers cultivating plantation crops - coffee, tea, arecanut, pepper and rubber - mostly in southern Karnataka who of late had entirely been depending upon migrant labourers have now been facing the heat of reverse migration of workers.

An estimated five lakh migrant workers, at least half of them being from North and North East India, were employed in plantations mainly to execute seasonal works. During the pre-lockdown and lockdown period, majority of them have gone back to their native places in North Karnataka as well as other parts of the country.

The Malnad and coastal regions where plantation crops are raised predominantly came to have “Ballari workers” since about two decades and when their numbers dwindled they got workers from the North East during the last four-five years, said a coffee plantation owner. Karnataka grows about 70% of coffee produced in India. The wages paid in Karnataka were three times more than they get in their home States even as planters were unable to meet the increasing demands of local labourers and also their non-availability.

Plantation owners’ woes would only get amplified after the central government asked state governments and Railways to facilitate reverse migration of inter-state workers, the process of which has started in Karnataka.

Harvesting season

Karnataka Planters Association Chairman Shirish Vijayendra told The Hindu that though the coffee harvest season was over by the time majority of migrant workers left, planters were finding it difficult to carry out a host of pre-monsoon activities.

The activities such as tree lapping that balances the light and shade on coffee plants, coffee plant grafting, spraying pesticides and providing manure sustain the plantation throughout the year. Some of these activities require skilled labour from Ballary and Tamil Nadu, who have already left, Mr. Vijayendra said.

Local migrant workers who go back home during Yugadi normally return by May-end and this time their return is doubtful. As such, coffee, tea and pepper crops are likely to get affected, Mr. Vijayendra noted.

Arecanut crop

Kerekodige Shashishekhar, a farmer in Koppa taluk said though there has been reverse migration of workers, arecanut growers in Malnad region have learnt to manage without them. Y.S. Subrahmanya, Vice President of Malnad Areca Marketing Cooperative Society Ltd., Shivamogga, said farmers were undertaking pre-monsoon works with the available workers.

However, some migrant workers, like Devesh from Jharkhand, have stayed back after plantation owners provided them accommodation. Mr. Devesh who works at an arecanut plantation in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada district said four of his family members earn about ₹2,000 a day for 20 days in a month. Back home, they cannot earn even ₹1,000 a day, he said elaborating his decision to stay back.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 6:50:01 AM |

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