Agriculture meets the threshold for satisfying the need of India’s enhancing population. Agriculture still occupies a place of pride. Indian agriculture is reaching the stage of development and maturity with the advanced countries of the world has embarked on the path of progress. It contributes sizeable share to national income from domestic as well as exports sources. Agriculture is not just a food producing machine, but it is the backbone of the country and it is the main source of our livelihood.
Agriculture is also an important factor in containing inflation, raising agricultural wages and for employment generation. Besides, the allied sectors like horticulture, animal husbandry, diary and fisheries, have an important role in improving the overall economic conditions and health and nutrition of the rural areas. To maintain the ecological balance, there is need for sustainable and balanced development of both agriculture and the allied sectors. Agricultural labourers work on the land of others on wages for the major part of the year and earn a major portion of their income as a payment in the form of wages for works performed on the agricultural farms owned by others. They will perform simple and routine tasks as part of agriculture, forestry and fishery production process. They depend on agriculture sector for their livelihood.
1.2 Agriculture Labour in India
Labour is one of the primary factors of production. It is considered to be important because it is an active factors of production. The size of labour force in a country is determined by the number of people in the age group of 15-59 years. Generally children below 15 years and the age above 59 years are non participant in production activity. Six out of every ten persons in India depend upon agriculture. In industrially advanced countries like U.K., U.S.A., etc., the number of people dependent on agriculture is very low as compared to India. Over the years 1921-2011, the size of labour force depend on agriculture had more the doubled.
- Types of Agricultural Labourers
Agricultural labourers may be divided into four types.
- Landless labourers who are attached to the landlords;
- Landless labourers who are personally independent but who work exclusively for others;
- Petty farmers with tiny bits of land who devote most of their time working for others; and
- Farmers who have economic holdings but who have one or more of their children and dependents working for other prosperous farmers.
- Causes for the Growth of Agricultural Labourers
There are number of factors responsible for the continuous increase in the number of agricultural labourers in India are as follows
- High growth rate of the population in the country.
- Decline of domestic industries and handicrafts.
- Eviction of small farmers and tenants from the land.
- The vast inequality in the distribution of land-holding has resulted in the need to search for the rural employment.
- Increase in indebtedness.
- The economic support has been reduced with the break-up of the joint family system, which increased the need to work outside the family’s land-holdings.
- Characteristics of Agricultural Labourers
- Unemployment and Underemployment
Seasonal unemployment is a characteristic of agricultural sector and under employment of man power is inherent in a system of family. Hours of work in agricultural have been found to be unduly long, particularly during the peak agricultural seasons. During harvesting and threshing, casual workers had to work for about 10 to 11 hours a day, with suitable rest interval; while during other periods they are comparatively short, subject to the availability of the sunlight. In fact, “there is no regularity in hours of work which depend on the goodwill and co-operation between the workers and employers and on local custom.
- Income and Wages
Agricultural labourers are unorganized and they have weak bargaining power. So the income of the agricultural labourers is very low. A large part of their income is derived from wages. Data about the wages paid to agricultural labourers reveals that the agricultural labourers do not receive notified minimum wages except in certain parts of the country like Kerala, Punjab, Haryana and Western U.P. Even in these states, females do not get remuneration as per the notified minimum wages.
Although it is necessary to fix up minimum wages for agricultural labourers, yet due to a number of inherent weaknesses it could not be possible to effectively implement the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 earlier that 1975. The difficulties related to:
- Low productivity in agriculture;
- Low productivity per labour;
- Small size of holdings which hindered the payment of required minimum;
- Widely difficult conditions of employment;
- Payment of customary wages;
- Lack of organization among the workers;
- Excessive labour supply in some areas and lack of demand for it; and
- Employment of family relations who need not be paid the wages.
Agricultural labourers are a class of extremely poor. Their wages are much lower than the industrial labour. The factors responsible for this disparity between the two groups are due to:
- Increased labour supply in agricultural sector, will reduce the wages.
- There is an excess of agricultural population in relation to the land available for cultivation.
- Often agricultural holding are not large enough to allow large and modern production methods.
- Debt bondages have been the principal cause of low wages.
- The unrecognized scattered nature of agricultural labourers and the seasonal character of agricultural operations reduce their bargaining capacity.
- The concentration of land in the hands of upper castes leads to social and economic exploitation of the weaker ones.
- They are usually untrained and often not properly organized. They have no trade unions to fight for their rights, for better wages and conditions of work.
- Small cultivators employ family labour, who would as far as possible, manages without hired labour except during seasonal exigencies.
- Income and Expenditure Pattern
The food taken by the labourers is far from satisfactory. Many do not get the required quantity nor get the requisite quality. It is said that if epidemics slay thousands every year, malnutrition kills millions. They take their daily diet at about 12 a.m. in the noon and the meal in the evening after returning from the field. Often millet or barley bread and chillies and some salt are taken. The labourers as a class are more addicted to drink than others. They drink country liquor made of rotten barley and mahua seed. Whether the liquor injures health or not, addicts are economically at a low level. Whatever they earn they spent away, more at the kalals shop than for the household. These results in deterioration in their financial status and their children and women folk suffer privation.
The Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee attributed the poverty of the agricultural labour families to these causes,
- Inability of the agricultural industry to provide adequate employment to agricultural families;
- Lack of opportunities for self or non-agricultural employment; and
- Low wages paid for work done.
As a result of low income and rising consumption expenditure the problem of indebtness is increasing amongst the agricultural labour families. This increase has been due to the higher proportion of attached labour households some of whom were under debt bondage or tie-in-allotment.
The most important feature is that the poverty stricken workers are not only under debt, but the burden of debt has been on the increase. This has been adversely affected the economic living and social conditions of the agricultural labourers. Unemployment, underemployment, and very low wages, combined with social oppression make the life of the agricultural workers miserable.
- Demand for Agricultural Labour
The demand for labour in agriculture is highly seasonal and uneven die to the seasonal nature of agricultural operations. There is a peak demand for labour in the harvesting seasons and next to that in times of transplanting and weedings. The number of labourers in demand depends upon the size of holdings, and the nature of cultivation or the crops raised.
Men are required mainly for operation of ploughing, leveling, digging wells and trenches, forming beds and bunds, hoeing and irrigating the fields- all of which require strenuous physical labour. For operations like sowing, weeding, grinding and transplanting etc., women labour are preferred because of lower wages. It is also striking to note for crops frown on dry lands (rain-fed) or wet lands (canal irrigation) more women are required than men. Generally, the members of the families of the farmers supply most of agricultural labour needed on the fields. Labour is hired only occasionally during busy seasons and the percentage of such labour ranges from 10 to 20 per cent of the total labour required during the year.
1.7 Supply of Agricultural Labour
Recruitment of labour in all agricultural operations and rural pursuits has a direct and complementary relationship with caste groups. In many cases not only caste determines the nature of occupation, but different occupations give birth to various sub-castes hitherto unknown.
The outstanding features of labour supply in agriculture are:
- Owner cultivators and high class tenants generally belong to high castes whose hereditary occupation has been cultivation
- Farm hands are recruited both from high and low castes. Usually they belong to the caste of the employer.
- Field workers are recruited mainly from lower castes which have agriculture as their subsidiary occupation.
- Landless floating hands are recruited from the lowest rung of the social ladder.
- Special Programmes for Agricultural Labourers
India’s rural working population consists mainly of small farmers and landless agricultural labourers. The problems of the small farmers and the agricultural labourers vary from area to area, but the more common problems being fragmented and small holdings, insecurity of tenure, inadequate and untimely supply of agricultural inputs, lack of adequate credit facilities and marketing facilities all of these have immensely hindered the development of agriculture on a sound basis and also stood in the way of improving the economic and social conditions of these people. Therefore, with a view to enable the weaker sections of the rural population to take advantage of the benefit of economic growth in the rural areas through spread of new technology, certain well-defined programmes were launched during the fourth plan period, particularly to increase employment opportunities and the productive potential of the economically weak farmers and landless agricultural labourers, such programmes are
- Small Farmer’s Development Agencies and Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labourers (SFDA & MFAL)
- Crash Scheme for Rural Development
- Integrated Land Distribution and Drought Prone Programmes
- National Rural Employment Programme (NREP)
- Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme (RLEGP)
- Jawahar Rojgar Yojana
- Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana (JGSY)
- Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS)
- Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna (SGSY)
Agriculture sector plays a significant role in national economic growth and poverty alleviation in many developing countries including India. It has vast opportunities for rural employment and provides livelihood security. The demand for workers in Agriculture sector is growing fast which increase their status in the society and agricultural workers play a multi-dimensional role in agriculture and in allied fields and also contribute more for the development of rural economy. Though, they are facing lot of issues such as low wages, hard work, long hours of work, seasonal unemployment, low standard of living, traditional bounded, etc.,. This leads to reduce their status in the society. Hence the government should come forward in solving their problems. The government introduced various schemes for agricultural workers, which is to be properly monitored by the government, whether the schemes are working successfully or not. By this the agricultural labourers will come out of these problems and they can lead a better life.