Machines come to rescue amid lockdown-linked labourer problem

Yet, labourer shortage slows down transport of paddy from purchase centres to mills, godowns

April 21, 2020 07:41 pm | Updated 10:21 pm IST - HYDERABAD

A harvester working in a paddy field in Nizamabad district.

A harvester working in a paddy field in Nizamabad district.

Notwithstanding some hiccups interspersed by untimely rains playing the spoilsport, the massive exercise of paddy procurement from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP) at the village itself in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus by scheduling arrivals with issuance of farmer-wise tokens, is underway briskly across the State.

The administration was groping in the dark on handling the massive task when the decision to force lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus during the last week of March as it curtailed the availability and movement of labourers for harvesting and procurement-related jobs. As such, according to Telangana Rice Millers Association, most of the 2,200 rice mills in the State would depend on migrant workers for their labour requirement.

“We were not sure as to how we could tackle the problem till we collected information about the exact availability of harvesters in the State. But once we secured credible data with the help of our field-level officials, despair gave way to confidence as the details collected included the contact numbers of harvester owners, their drivers and servicing agencies along with the number of machines available in the State,” Agriculture Production Commissioner B. Janardhan Reddy told The Hindu .

Enough harvesters

Initially, the Agriculture Department had information that only about 5,000 harvesters were available in the State but the enumeration could bring out that a total of 14,095 machines were owned in the State. Another 753 harvesters are positioned in the State by their owners in Tamil Nadu and Punjab who sensed heavy business this rabi season, that stretches from March last week to May second week.

“We came to know that some entrepreneurs had started purchasing harvesters from the last rabi season itself assessing that they would have huge work on hand with Kaleshwaram project set to become functional,” the APC said adding that harvesters would also help the farming community save on costs. A field official involved in the procurement exercise, however, stated that local labourers were unwilling to work at purchase centres and rice mills/storage points as ‘hamalis’ as it involves a lot of physical stress. He also admitted to the delays in moving the stock from purchase centres to rice mills/godowns due to labourer shortage.

Migrant labour

Administration in several districts is encouraging migrant workers, both those who were in transit and struck in districts and those who come in search of seasonal wage work, to ease the labourer shortage in procurement, loading and unloading of purchased grain. “We have distributed 12 kg of rice each to all migrant workers in the district along with cash of ₹1,500 per family already this month and offering them wage work too at procurement centre and rice mills/storage points. Some of them are working already,” District Collector of Mahabubnagar S. Venkata Rao said, when enquired about the problem.

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