OTHERS

Severe unemployment in rural areas: panel

CHENNAI, MAY 8. Rural Tamil Nadu is faced with ``severe unemployment and underemployment'', as the industrialisation of the 1990s had failed to absorb the surplus labour in agriculture, the Kolappan Committee Report on Farm Labour has said.

This could be partly due to the nature of industrialisation and partly the population explosion, the report says while drawing attention to an estimated 16 million joining the ranks of the agriculture labour-force in the 1990s in the State.

The report, which was made public yesterday by the CPI(M)'s Agricultural Workers Union, says of the 75 million agricultural labourers in Tamil Nadu, about 47 per cent are women, who play ``a vital role in agriculture production operations.'' And nearly half of the labour belong to the scheduled castes and tribes.

In general, ``agricultural labourers suffer from seasonal unemployment, insecurity of jobs, subsistence living, indebtedness, bondage, migration, inability to get minimum wages and lack of social security, '' the report says painting an appalling picture and adds that they are also ``poorly housed''.

House-sites

Among the major recommendations of the Committee are steps to assign house-sites as well as ownership (pattas) to all the eligible agricultural labour households in a phased manner, ``so as to cover almost 100 per cent of them within a five-year period''. A minimum of four cents of land is required for a house-site.

Urging that the quantum of rice supplied to them under PDS be raised from 20 kg to 30 kg per month, the report has suggested that in giving free power connection to huts, the ownership of the house as an eligibility norm, need not be insisted upon.

It was imperative to construct public toilets in convenient places with proper sanitary and water facilities as women farm labourers in particular were facing severe hardship on this count. ``It is a matter of our self-respect,'' several women labourers who deposed before the Committee said and insisted public latrines must be top on the amenities agenda for them.

Identity cards

The committee in its 43 policy prescriptions submitted to the Government, has recommended registration and issuance of identity cards to all agricultural workers, and extending the existing old- age pension scheme to them irrespective of whether they had sons or daughters.

A gratuity-cum-provident fund benefit scheme, on the Kerala Government scheme's pattern, could be introduced for farm labourers in Tamil Nadu in the age group of 30 to 60 years, it said, besides mooting an ``unemployment benefit'' for wards of agricultural labourers until they find employment.

Suggesting to the Government to enact a separate Act, called, ``Tamil Nadu Agricultural Labourers Welfare Act'' to help implement the welfare measures effectively, the Committee also recommended a separate Department or Board to oversee the implementation of various measures, including minimum wages.

The Committee also wanted the Government to take a ``policy decision on prohibition'' as many agriculture labour families got ruined due to the ``irresponsible drinking habits of the male heads and the complete family burden falling on the women.''