Dashrath Patil is busy laying bricks, adding extra rooms to his house in Siroli village of Koriya for his sons who are expected to be home in a week after returning from Maharashtra.
“We are trying to create space for everyone before the rains,” said Patil.
In Chhattisgarh, more than 2 lakh people have so far returned from cities after lockdown severed their livelihood, and officials expect at least 70,000 more. The influx has made the chances of finding work during the monsoon bleak. Thirty-year-old Magru Patil is one among them.
“I used to work for three farmers during the sowing season and would get a share of grain from all three that would help us survive the year,” said Mangru. But for this sowing season, one of the farmers has refused to hire him. “His nephews and their children are here from the cities, so they will have enough hands and won’t need me,” he said.
Mukesh Sai (23) from Naugaon village had worked for one of the big farmers in Pipariya all his life. “Their nephews have returned and I was told by one of them that they will not need me. I am now looking for work in my own village. Only when the sowing begins will we know,” he said.
Patil and several others have MGNREGA cards. His wife works at the construction of a bridge that connects the village to the main road to Manendragadh, the closest town. The work, however, will stop soon as all MGNREGA works are put on hold during the monsoon.
The labour crisis in villages is deepened by the belief of parents that schools will not reopen in near future. Many have welcomed the additional help from their children lending a hand on the land.
According to Sudesh Tekam, convener of a farmer’s body: “Factory workers, construction workers, everyone is back. Not all of them can be employed in farming. We have requested the government to not stop the MGNREGA work, and help generate job opportunities,” he said.
State Rural Development and Panchayat minister T S Singh Deo believes that despite the influx, all those who are seeking work will get some kind of employment, even if the quality of work might differ from previous years.
Chhattisgarh has managed to reach 37% of its MGNREGA target in just two months of April and May. With demand for jobs rising, the minister said the Centre will have to increase the budgetary targets. “During the Covid months or years, workers will have insecurity about returning. They will have to be given jobs where they are since many would not want to travel back. So definitely the central government will have to step in and help us increase the targets,” he said.
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