Ravi Kumar, a resident of Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh (UP), missed casting his votes back home on April 29 due to wheat harvesting season is at its peak in Punjab. Ravi, who has been working as a labourer at Jalandhar’s grain market for the past two decades, said:”My vote and my wife’s vote went waste despite our wish of casting our vote but we were helpless because this is the season when we get regular work and we can earn some money.”
He added that like for security forces, government should facilitate labourers in casting their vote from the place where are working.
Just like Ravi, Kanhaiya, a resident of Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh (UP), will not cast his vote for the fear of losing 10 work days. The election in his constituency is on May 6. “Barring four months of wheat, paddy harvesting and paddy planting season. Rest of the year we just pull rikshaw or do some other irregular labour work,” he said.
Both Ravi and Kanhaiya earn around Rs 25000 in a span of 40 days during the harvesting season that starts from April first week and continues till the second week of May and involves loading-unloading of grain, cleaning, filling and stitching of grain bags.
With Punjab being the highest contributor of wheat to the central pool, there are many like these two who have missed exercising their right to vote.
There are 152 main mandies, over 1800 purchase centres across the state where around 170-180 lakh tonnes wheat would be procured in this season out of which over 100 lakh tonnes has already been procured till date. There are around three lakhs labourers engaged in these mandies, and 99 per cent of them are migrants.
Sanjay Chaudhary of Samstipur in Bihar too could not cast his vote this time on April 29. “At first I thought of not coming to Punjab this year due to elections but my family condition forced me to come here and work,” he said, adding that “issi season hum chaar paise kama lete Hain (this is the time when we earn some money).”
Sadashiv Jha and his brother, Gopal, too missed their vote at Samatipur. Mihir Dass, a resident of Katihar in Bihar state and president of one of the labour union in Jalandhar grain market, said that he was supposed to reach in Jalandhar on April 1, but he came on April 19 after casting his vote a day earlier. “I lost over half month’s labour in this peak season just to cast my vote but not everyone cannot afford this.”
“We earn minimum Rs 500 a day during harvesting season and this amount helps us a lot back home,” said Durgesh, who has been working at Alawalpur grain market for the past five years and hails from from Murshidabad in West Bengal. Murshidabad votes on April 23.
“Thekedar (Contractor) was even ready to pay us in advance because he was apprehending that due to election, large number of labourers would not come this time but there are only few who came little late after casting their vote in first phase otherwise all have come on time as our work will give us food,” said another labour Hira Lal from Asansol (West Bengal).
President of the Arhtiya Association Punjab, Vijay Kalra, said that due to delay in harvesting in Punjab some of the migrant labourers got the chance to cast their vote in the first phase of elections, but majority did not get this chance in the later phases.