In­dian agri­cul­tural work­ers broke, un­cer­tain as ru­ral lock­down eased

Kuwait Times - - News -

MUM­BAI: As In­dia eased its tough coro­n­avirus lock­down for farm­ers, some agri­cul­tural work­ers said they were un­aware they could re­turn to the fields af­ter weeks with­out in­come dur­ing the peak har­vest sea­son. In­dia’s 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple will con­tinue to live un­der strict curbs un­til May 3, but the gov­ern­ment said farms and fac­to­ries could re­sume ac­tiv­ity today in the hin­ter­land, which has been less hard-hit by COVID-19.

“We didn’t know the re­stric­tions were lifted,” farm worker Mukesh Sa­hani told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion by phone from his vil­lage in the north­ern state of Ut­tar Pradesh, say­ing weeks with­out earn­ings had left his fam­ily with “just about enough to eat and live”. “We have in­curred the big­gest loss ever this year. My par­ents and I man­aged to get two days of work this month for 400 In­dian ru­pees ($5), as against the 15-20 days of work we get on var­i­ous farms ev­ery year,” he added.

April is nor­mally a month of strong de­mand for farm work­ers but the lock­down, which is now in its fourth week, has brought the coun­try­side to a vir­tual stand­still and har­vest fes­ti­vals have been muted this year. It was un­clear ex­actly how many of the coun­try’s mil­lions of agri­cul­tural work­ers were un­aware that the con­trols had been par­tially lifted, as farm­ing unions sought to spread the word in the coun­try­side.

Seema Kulka­rni of the Mahila Kisan Ad­hikar Manch, a net­work of civil so­ci­ety groups and women farm­ers which has been send­ing out mes­sages to its mem­bers this week, said there was “ea­ger­ness” among farm work­ers to get back to their jobs. Nearly 70 per­cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion live in ru­ral ar­eas, where more than half of men and nearly 70 per­cent women are en­gaged in agri­cul­tural work, gov­ern­ment data shows.

Due to cir­cum­stances a gov­ern­ment spokesper­son said daily wages un­der a ru­ral em­ploy­ment scheme had been in­creased to 202 ru­pees ($2.65) from about 180 In­dian ru­pees ($2) and nearly 55 bil­lion ru­pees ($655 mil­lion) dis­bursed among 16 mil­lion peo­ple. These were among the many steps in­clud­ing al­low­ing agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and set­ting up call cen­tres to co­or­di­nate trans­porta­tion of farm pro­duce - un­der­taken by the gov­ern­ment to mit­i­gate hard­ship in ru­ral In­dia, he said.

K S Dhat­walia, prin­ci­pal direc­tor gen­eral of the Press In­for­ma­tion Bureau of the In­dian gov­ern­ment, said in an email that both sow­ing and har­vest­ing ac­tiv­i­ties were on course, with the sow­ing area cov­er­age bet­ter than last year.

Re­cent videos shared by farm­ers on so­cial me­dia show fields burst­ing with crops in­clud­ing cab­bages, pep­pers, to­ma­toes and grapes wait­ing to be har­vested, or be­ing dumped by farm­ers un­able to sell their pro­duce. “Farm pro­duce traders, who would har­vest crops from my land to sell it at the whole­sale mar­ket, couldn’t make it this year,” said farmer Kan­naiyam Subra­ma­nium, whose video of his bumper cab­bage crop went vi­ral on Twit­ter. “There are many farm­ers who haven’t got work­ers to har­vest. Veg­eta­bles won’t wait for the lock­down to be over be­fore they per­ish,” he said.

For some farm work­ers, how­ever, the eas­ing of the con­trols brought a lit­tle re­lief. Pawan Lalu­ram, 20, went to visit his em­ployer to pick up wages he was due to be paid: two sacks of wheat. “I couldn’t bring the wheat sacks last month when the lock­down was an­nounced as I had to walk nearly 40 miles (65 km) to reach home,” he said. “There’s no work in the vil­lage and there was no food at home. The wheat may last us a few months,” he said. — Reuters

DAREWADI, In­dia: Anil Salunkhe, a farmer, feeds straw­ber­ries to his cow dur­ing a 21-day na­tion­wide lock­down to slow the spread of COVID-19 in this vil­lage in Satara district in the western state of Ma­ha­rash­tra on April 1, 2020. — Reuters

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