Every time disaster strikes on a construction site in Bangalore, including the most recent one last week, the list of worker casualties always has several migrant labourers from North Karnataka, particularly from the impoverished districts of Raichur, Koppal and Yadgir.
Obviously, at the root of this is large-scale migration from these parts to Bangalore, Pune and Goa over the last one decade in search of a livelihood. These illiterate or semi-literate and unskilled rural agricultural labourers have been absorbed by different sectors, particularly the construction industry.
As a result, the villages in these districts, particularly those deprived of irrigation facilities, are almost deserted. Only the elderly and the sick are found here and there during summers.
Groups of men, women and their children waiting with their baggage for buses and trains are common every year in Lingsugur, Manvi, Deodurga in Raichur district, Kushtgi and Yelburga in Koppal district and Surpur and Shahapur in Yadgir district.
The root cause for such exodus is, of course, agrarian crisis and the resultant rural distress.
In Raichur district, one can see the stark contrast between the rain-fed dry areas and the areas irrigated by the Tungabhadra Left Bank Canal. While the former is deserted following large-scale migration, the latter is not.
Both agricultural labourers with no farmland of their own and small peasants with little landholdings have migrated from the villages. While the former are settled down in the cities, the latter come back to their native villages for three months to look after their farmland.
“I get Rs. 300-Rs. 500 a day as compared to Rs. 150-Rs. 200 in my native village. Moreover, we get work almost throughout the year in Bangalore as compared to a few months in our native place,” said Moula who migrated to Bangalore from Ayanur village in Sindhanur taluk, Raichur district, 10 years ago. His wife too is a construction worker who earns a daily wage of Rs. 200 against the Rs. 100 in their native place.
Hanumantharaya of Kalladevanahalli in Muddebihal taluk, Bijapur district, had a similar reason to go back to Bangalore. He doesn’t know how old he is, but has great-grandchildren. After working as a construction worker for 12 years in Bangalore, he returned to his village eight months ago hoping not to go back again. But, his village is forcing him to do what he doesn’t want to.
“Male workers get Rs. 200 a day each while a female one gets Rs. 70 in our village. And we don’t get work throughout the year. We cannot survive with it and hence, I have decided to go back to Bangalore with my son and his family,” he said.
Those who own small rain-fed landholdings also go out of the village for around nine months a year as they find it difficult to manage with the income.
“I go to Bangalore after sowing our field leaving our aged parents to look after it and come back for harvesting. We are not sure that the money spent on the field would fetch any profit. Even if it does, we cannot run the family with that small amount,” said Maresh who owns three acres of dry land in Bagalawada village of Manvi taluk of Raichur district.
When The Hindu spoke to him, he was in his native village to complete sowing activity. Those who lease out their land won’t come back to the village, he added.
Many had hoped that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act would change the scenario in rural areas hit by mass-migration. However, the exodus continued without hindrance thanks to the widespread corruption in implementing the scheme. Workers who worked under MGNREGA and were not paid their wages observed August 15, 2013 as “Black Day” demanding their wages.
Meanwhile, Kumar Samatala of Karnataka Janashakti, pointing out at the other face of migration, said, “Migration has set agricultural workers free from their feudal clutches and exposed them to modernity apart from providing relative financial stability.”
Neither Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister H.K. Patil nor Chief Executive Officer of the Raichur Zilla Panchayat Muddumohan could be reached to know whether they have any programmes to check the increasing instances of migration from the rural areas.