TOTAL PRODUCTION $366.92 billion CONTRIBUTION TO GDP 17.9% SURPLUS WORKERS IN UNORGANISED SECTOR (MAINLY AGRICULTURE) 104 million CHALLENGES
Agriculture remains an almost wholly unorganised sector. Employment conditions remain so pathetic that workers moving from this sector to unorganised nonagricultural sectors always find an improvement in employment conditions—wages are always higher.
The excess supply of agricultural labour shows up not as high unemployment but as underemployment of a large section of the employed. Casual wage employees, for example, cannot find work 10-20 per cent of the time.
There are altogether 104 million surplus workers in this sector that are seriously underemployed. If they were employed in different sectors, agricultural productivity would rise and increase wage rates of non-surplus workers.
The wages for casual labour in construction have been and remain much higher than in agriculture, in both the organised and unorganised segments. Casual labourers, therefore, have much to gain by moving from agriculture to construction.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Eight million jobs need to be created per year for the next 15 years to tackle unemployment and underemployment in agriculture. This is aside from an additional 8 million jobs required annually for fresh entrants to the work force. Workers in this sector also need to be educated so that they can find better employment.
MGNREGA made it obligatory for the government to provide 100 days of employment every year at a fixed minimum wage to members of rural households. About 5.1 crore households were provided employment during 2016-17. Even though implementation has been far from perfect, it is widely agreed that schemes under MGNREGA helped the poor by providing employment and by increasing the wage rate for casual labour.
The objectives of MGNREGA included the creation of a social safety net via a fallback employment option and by the development of infrastructure (irrigation and water management systems and road networks in particular), which could stimulate growth of agriculture and thus strengthen the rural economy. The continuation of such policies would go a long way in mitigating underemployment and unemployment among agricultural workers.
Ajit K. Ghose Honorary professor, Institute of Human Development, Head, NITI Aayog working committee on jobs