The paddy transplantation season appears set to overcome the usual labour crisis.
Labour is still short but Punjabi workers,especially women and teenagers,have shown signs that they will help meet the shortfall,having started to join the effort in large numbers. And for once,they are not overcharging. Till last year,local labourers charged 25 to 30 per cent more than the wages of their migrant counterparts; this year,most are working at nearly the same charges. In a few villages,the difference is up to Rs 100 per acre but never more.
The wages are in the range of Rs 1,700-Rs 2,000 per acre,nearly the same as those last year,and many farm owners who had booked labour in advance are paying even less: Rs 1,500-1,600 per acre.
Labourers as of now are coming on their own,based on previous bookings, said Darshan Singh Koohli of Bharti Kisan Union. They are being given free rations: 5 kg potato,rice and wheat flour for every acre of paddy transplantation.
Projects under MNREGA had raised the possibility of most labourers being engaged there,but the feedback from Punjab villages is many of these projects have either been completed or have had no work for some time. This has suited the farmers.
Last year we paid Rs 1,500 per acre and this year it can be little more, said Mohinder Singh Dhingra of Fazilka,who cultivates basmati cultivation and plans to start sowing in 10 days. We are sending tractors to transport labourers from one village to another but the situation is not as bad as it used to be.
Bakshish Singh Chahal,chief agriculture officer,Ferozepur,said,This year in our district,rice from 2,000 hectares is being sown directly with machines,and rice from 500 acres through paddy transplanters. But the total area under paddy cultivation is 2.51 lakh hectares. So manual transplantation is still the only answer.