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"Bonded situation" among Gujarat's 50.4% of migrants in sugarcane fields; they're permanently in debt: Report

By Rajiv Shah
A German government-funded report has said that more than 50.4% of an approximate 1.25 lakh migrant labourers working in Gujarat’s prosperous sugarcane block of Bardoli, most of them tribals from Dhule and Nadurbar districts of Maharashtra and Dangs and Tapi districts of Gujarat, remain in a permanent state of debt, with their incomes going into “negative” as the harvesting season draws to a close.
Working from November to May each year, these migrant workers are trapped into a “bonded situation”, the report, titled “A Bitter Harvest: Seasonal Migrant Sugarcane Harvesting Workers of South Gujarat”, researched and published by the Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action (PCLRA), and supported by Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, says.
Prepared by an Institute of Social Studies, Surat ,scholar Prof Kiran Desai, and Prayas’ Sudhir Katiyar, the report says, a major reason why they are forced to in and around Bardoli is, “lack of employment and earning opportunities” in their home districts. While 75% of them are landless, 20% own less than 2 acres of land.
The report, covering around 7,300 sugarcane harvesters and 2,000 brokers in Bardoli area, says, for most of the migrant workers, it is “a zero sum game” because they take an advance from the brokers or mukadams, who take them in groups to the sugarcane fields. The advance is deducted from their wages, which they get at the end of the season. The interest they must pay for the advance they take comes to a whopping 50%.
According to the report, “The expansion of agricultural land under sugarcane and establishment of sugar mills on cooperative basis in south Gujarat region, especially in and around Bardoli, area has been a replica model of agro-industrial development adopted in neighbouring districts of Maharashtra”.
Like in Maharashtra, in Gujarat too, these mills are owned “mainly middle and large farmers belonging to dominant higher and intermediate castes”, who have “imposed or reaffirmed their political, social and economic hegemony and clout through the instrument of sugar cooperatives”, the report says.
The migrant workers from the backward tribal belts of Maharashtra and Gujarat are preferred, according to the report, because the “local halpatis agricultural labourers demand higher wages”, while “the migrant labourers provide a cheaper alternative”, one reason why the cooperative owners insist want mukadams to bring in migrants much before the harvesting season begins “to accomplish other agricultural works at a cheaper labour cost.”
According to the report, ideally, considering the amount paid to the migrant workers, the income of the couple – usually husband and wife – called kyota in local parlance, should have been in the range of Rs 20,001 to 30,000.
“But when wages are paid to the harvesters by the mukadams outstanding debt in the form of advance given (with 50 % interest) is subtracted”, the report says. “Add into that costs of cereals in the form of juvar and millet-bajri as well as of materials such astadpatri and plastic to erect makeshift habitat, which were given by the factories at the start of the season.”
Pointing out that all this is “also deducted” from advance, the report says, “Almost half of the workers had negative balance in terms of amount received, i.e., they are in indebted state even after four to five months of tireless labour. The rest 50% of the workers could earn positive net amount in the range of Rs 1,000 to 30,000 after subtracting outstanding advance and other amount.”
“Deciphering the data further it is revealed that around one-third of harvesters had earned in the range of Rs 10,000 and less, whereas the rest 15% could earn more than that and up to Rs 30000”, the report adds.
This amount they get, the report says quoting 50% of those interviewed, after they “toil for 12-14 hours and worse”, while “another 30 per cent even mentioned more than 14 hours of daily labour”, adding, “Often they have to go late night, at odd hours for loading harvested canes to lorries or carts. In terms of months the harvesting season lasts for four to six months.”

Comments

Pankti Jog said…
Very interesting and alarming....
Hasan said…
So is India!😊
Madhu Menon said…

It’s rampaging in the interiors of Bharuch and Narmada districts, the practice of Chakkar-Paniyari by Patels - not so rich but land owners - is prevalent there !

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