In­dian farm­ers face fewer jobs, lower in­comes

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

In­dian farm­ers forced into giv­ing up their land for in­dus­try face dwin­dling earn­ings and fewer job op­tions, in­creas­ing the like­li­hood of more bloody con­flicts as de­mand for scarce land rises, ex­perts say. In­creased mech­a­niza­tion is tak­ing away some man­ual labor, while a lack of train­ing of farm­ers and farm work­ers for al­ter­nate jobs is leav­ing them with few liveli­hood op­tions. The In­dian gov­ern­ment’s ru­ral em­ploy­ment pro­gram and con­struc­tion work to build ever-grow­ing cities are in­ad­e­quate to bridge the in­come gap, an­a­lysts say.

“These are peo­ple who have known only this one job all their lives,” said Bina Agar­wal, a pro­fes­sor of de­vel­op­ment eco­nom­ics in the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester. “These re­source-poor, lit­tle ed­u­cated peo­ple have few op­tions out­side agri­cul­ture ex­cept casual work, which would leave them poorer. Mov­ing to the cities to work does not re­duce poverty - it may even in­crease it,” she said. Em­ploy­ment in In­dian agri­cul­ture shrank by 26 mil­lion jobs in the pe­riod 2011 to 2015, ac­cord­ing to the McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute. Jobs in skilled sec­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, health and hos­pi­tal­ity rose by 33 mil­lion in the same pe­riod.

Mean­while, con­flicts over land have risen as de­mand for in­dus­trial use in­creases, af­fect­ing mil­lions of peo­ple and jeop­ar­dis­ing bil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment. A 2013 land ac­qui­si­tion law aimed at pro­tect­ing the rights of In­dian farm­ers re­quires sup­port for those dis­placed from their land - with jobs or homes - and com­pen­sa­tion of up to four times the mar­ket value of their plot.

But while it was cus­tom­ary in the past for large in­dus­tries to of­fer jobs to dis­placed farm­ers, it is less com­mon now. Of the jobs be­ing gen­er­ated, most are con­tract with fewer ben­e­fits and greater in­se­cu­rity. “Ear­lier, es­pe­cially with state-owned en­ter­prises, hun­dreds and even thou­sands of jobs were cre­ated, which some­what made up for the loss of land,” said Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer in Ch­hat­tis­garh state who rep­re­sents vil­lagers fight­ing land ac­qui­si­tions. “But now, there are very few per­ma­nent jobs cre­ated, so those giv­ing up their land have fewer means of sup­port­ing them­selves,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Deadly Protests

More than 60 per­cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 bil­lion de­pends on agri­cul­ture for its liveli­hood. But more than three quar­ters of farm­ers own less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land each, with fall­ing in­comes lead­ing to ris­ing debt and grow­ing dis­con­tent. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has promised to dou­ble farm­ers’ in­comes over the next five years, but re­cent deadly protests show farm­ers are frus­trated with the slow pace of re­form. Pro­test­ers in­cluded even the wealthy land-own­ing Jats of Haryana state and the Marathas of Ma­ha­rash­tra, who are de­mand­ing job quo­tas in ad­di­tion to bet­ter prices for farm out­put. Agar­wal cites a re­cent sur­vey that showed about 40 per­cent of farm­ers, when asked if they liked farm­ing, said they did not; they in­cluded both poor and wealthy farm­ers. “Most farm­ers them­selves want their chil­dren to leave farm­ing - but a de­sire to quit does not match the abil­ity to quit,” Agar­wal said.

At the same time, a broader “job­less growth” trend means not enough jobs are be­ing cre­ated even as the In­dian econ­omy expands at a fast clip. Only about 200,000 jobs were cre­ated in eight of In­dia’s most labour-in­ten­sive sec­tors in the last two years, com­pared with nearly 1 mil­lion jobs a year cre­ated in the pre­vi­ous two-year pe­riod, of­fi­cial data showed.

New Skills

The gov­ern­ment last month di­luted its goal of train­ing 500 mil­lion peo­ple in new skills by 2022, a set­back to the goal of boost­ing em­ploy­ment. The am­bi­tious ‘Make in In­dia’ plan to boost man­u­fac­tur­ing - and thus cre­ate jobs - and the ‘Skill In­dia’ mis­sion to im­prove work­ers’ skills are also fall­ing short, an­a­lysts say. The rush to con­vert agri­cul­tural land into in­dus­trial land and in­dus­trial land into ser­vice land is partly re­spon­si­ble for the em­ploy­ment cri­sis, a trade union said in June.

While larger land own­ers may re­ceive enough com­pen­sa­tion for their land with which to buy land else­where or set up a busi­ness, smaller farm­ers can do lit­tle with the money they get and lose their abil­ity to grow their own food. Farm work­ers and ten­ant farm­ers who do not own the land they till are worse off, as they re­ceive no com­pen­sa­tion. “We are try­ing to work out a way in which farm­ers do not lose out, and can im­prove their lives,” T Haque, chair­man of the land pol­icy de­part­ment at gov­ern­ment think tank Niti Aayog, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. —Reuters

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