Covid-19 outbreak shatters bumper rabi harvest dreams of part-time workers - Hindustan Times
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Covid-19 outbreak shatters bumper rabi harvest dreams of part-time workers

BySanjeev K Jha, Noida
Apr 01, 2020 10:28 PM IST

The nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19 outbreak has had other implications besides the obvious. It has shattered the dreams of several farmers-turned-part-time workers in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, who were expecting a bumper rabi crop this year.

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HT Image

Thirty-five-year-old Mangal Sah wheels his vegetable cart in the streets of Sector 62. Though he now earns more than he did before, he is not a happy man. He curses his fate for not getting a reservation on a Bihar-bound train before the announcement of the 21-day nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Sah, however, is not worried about losing a job or eking out a livelihood; he owns a two-storey home in Loni, Ghaziabad. “Selling vegetable is not my permanent vocation. I came to Delhi 15 years ago with my father and we’ve been working here since then. My father deals in property and I chip in. Our family stays with us. But, back home in our native Pratapganj, Bihar, there is no taker for our five bigha-worth of a bumper wheat crop this year,” he said.

Standing beside him, his father Raghuvir Sah breaks down, saying that they live in Delhi-NCR just to make money so that they can buy more land back home. “I have seen the plight of landless farmers in our village. It was my dream to become a landowner, that’s why I moved to Delhi and started working as a daily wager in a plastic factory. Since then, I have not wasted a single penny and bought eight bighas of land, besides purchasing an eight-room house in Loni. People like us return home every year during this time for the harvesting season. This time, with our return halted because of the nationwide lockdown, availability of labour will be hurt,” he said and claimed that this year they were supposed to harvest wheat worth over 1 lakh.

The Sahs, however, are not an exception. Echoing similar views, Rajinder Yadav, who hails from Barapalasi village in Dumka district (Jharkhand), says that he is unable to sleep worrying over his blooming wheat fields back home.

Yadav, who works as a caretaker in a tyre company, located in the C block of Sector 63. “After unseasonal rainfall caused considerable damage to the kharif crops late last year, the rabi harvest was expected to be a bumper crop because of higher soil fertility and water reservoir levels. But, all our dreams are shattered now,” he said.

Ajay Pal Sharma, a Greater Noida-based farmer and Uttar Pradesh state general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), too, sympathise with the plight of these migrant workers. “These farmers are the biggest losers of this lockdown. A factory can restart and increase its production at any time, but farmers can’t. First, it was the adverse weather conditions that shattered hopes. And, now the directive issued by the state government, which restricts the farmers using combine harvesters, straw reapers and threshers, to operate in groups of not more than 2-5 people, is leading to problems” he said.

Sharma also said that the farmers of UP, Bihar and Jharkhand have been asked to intimate their gram panchayats concerned about their movements. “The government has ordered that while cutting crops, along with the landowner, only two more people are permitted as long as they maintain a distance of at least two metres between each other. Not only that, if anyone involved in harvesting is suffering from a cold, cough or a fever, they are to go for a check-up and will not be permitted to harvest the crops. The situation is far from normal for farmers. The government must make adequate arrangements to send the migrants to their hometowns so that they can contribute to harvesting,” the BKU leader said.

The Gautam Budh Nagar district labour department, however, is having a hard time locating these part-time workers. Deputy commissioner (labour) Pradeep Kumar Singh said that such workers, mostly associated with construction companies, come once or twice in a year, to earn during the offseason, while farming remains their main vocation. “Of 1,94,611 workers registered with the district labour department since 2008, some 38,000 have renewed their registration. We contacted their employers, who told us that most of them did not return to those companies after a year or two. During this lockdown, our officials who are trying to locate their details say that lesser than 10% of them available on the mobile phone numbers given at the time of their registration,” he said.

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