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Punjab in 'labour pains' over paddy yet again

Gautam Dheer, Chandigarh, June 10, 2013, DHNS: 2:05 IST
As the massive exercise of paddy transplantation got underway in Punjab on Monday, an increase of at least 25 per cent in labour cost owing to its acute shortage appears imminent, amid desperate farmers promising a bounty of incentives to attract labourers.

For some years now, Punjab has grappled with its perennial problem of labour shortage, even as the 450-odd mechanical paddy transplanting machines in the state are left under-utilised with farmers largely preferring the manual way to transplant paddy. The gross mismatch between demand and supply of labour for multiple reasons, that has triggered a sizable increase in labor cost per acre, is bound to snip profits for the farmers.

The agriculture input cost too has soared high over the years, much to the disadvantage of the farmers. Take for instance the price of diesel that increased by Rs 11 per litre in just one year.

The real problem though is to find enough migrant labour from faraway UP and Bihar for this arduous exercise in these sweltering summer months. According to sources, labourers are demanding anywhere between Rs 2200 per acre to Rs 2500 per acre for the task, which is an increase of 25 per cent since last year.

Over and above labour charges, landlords and farmers with large holdings are offering a whole range of incentives, including mobile phones, free food — at times with butter chicken — desert coolers and on-the-house lodging. Farmers have started scouring railway stations in Punjab with placards stating these incentives, in the look out for labourers.

An estimated four lakh labourers arrive from Bihar and UP this time around. The numbers have shrunk because of multiple reasons, one being schemes like the MGNREGA. Punjab is the largest contributor to the central rice pool and produces an estimated 150 lakh tonnes of rice every year on an area of 28 lakh hectare.

The government wants to curtail the hectarage under paddy produce by 50,000 hectares each year largely since paddy is a water-guzzling crop. Officials opine that farmers can reduce the impact of labour shortage by switching to mechanised paddy transplantation. But farmers see more reason in the manual process.

Paddy uprooted in Haryana

In a stern move in Haryana, authorities uprooted paddy planted on 10 acres of land in Fatehabad district since the crop was sown by farmers before the due date (June 15 in Haryana). A tractor was deployed to destroy all the paddy, says PTI.

Farmers were served notices to uproot the crop but they ignored it. Punjab and Haryana have kept due dates for paddy sowing since paddy is a water-guzzling crop and an Act was needed to ensure restraint to maintain subsoil water.

Under the Haryana Act, paddy sowing before due date invites not just destruction of saplings in field but also a heavy fine per acre.

Basmati acreage to double

Aiming to boost cultivation of the aromatic crop, Punjab government has decided to double area under basmati crop to 10 lakh hectares in the state in next three years, adds PTI.

State agriculture commissioner Balwinder Singh Sidhu on Monday said under theprogramme of crop diversification, area under basmati will be doubled from five lakh hectares at present to ten lakh hectares in next three years.

He said the move behind the promotion of less water intensive basmati crop is to prevent further depletion of ground water table, which has gone down due to excessive extraction of water for paddy sowing.

Highlighting a slew of incentives recently announced by the Punjab government for the promotion of basmati exports, Sidhu said basmati rice will be exempted from 2 per cent RDF, 3 per cent Punjab infrastructure development fund cess and 2 per cent market fee which would entail an outgo of Rs 200 crore annually from state exchequer.

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