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1.3 lakh children work in cottonseed plots in Gujarat tribal area, claims NGO study

By Our Representative

A recent survey, carried out by the Centre for Labour Research and Action (CLRA), a civil rights organization, of cottonseed plots in Danta taluka of Banaskantha district has claimed that tribal children continue to be employed in large numbers for cross pollination work in cottonseed production in Gujarat. While some of the children belong to the farmer households, other children are hired for wages as the pollination work is labour intensive.
Based on the acreage under cottonseed production (around 50,000 acres in tribal areas), per acre requirement of workers (10 per acre), and incidence of child labour (26% children below 14 years and 40% adolescents), the number of tribal children employed is likely to be 130,000 children and 200,000 adolescents, the study points out, basing its estimates from “Development’s Forgotten Children 2019”.
The cottonseed production is undertaken through contract farming by seed companies. The major Indian seed companies are Nuzi Veedu, Mahyco. Ajeet, Bioseeds, Tulsi, JK, Rasi, Kaveri, Ganga, Nath Seeds, Greengold and so on. The Bt cottonseed, the only GM crop allowed in India, was introduced by MNC Monsanto that has now been taken over by Bayer, the study states.
The issue was flagged first in 2007-08 by civil society organizations, notably Dakshini Rajasthan Majdur Union. The Union reported that lakhs of tribal children from Rajasthan were being trafficked to cottonseed plots in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts of North Gujarat for pollination work, says CLRA in a communque following a virtual press conferenced. This led to visit by the chairperson of  the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a Government of India child rights organization. 
The state government set up Task Force to detect and eliminate child labour from cottonseed plots. Since then it is reported that the industry has shifted production to tribal farms in North Gujarat and South Rajasthan. However, in a new development, says CLRA, the production has shifted to tribal farms in Lunawada in Mahisagar, Pavi Jetpur and Bodoli in Chhota Udepur, Bhiloda and Mehgraj in Aravali district, Khedbrahma in Sabarkantha, and Danta in Banaskantha district.
“Thus, while child migration and child trafficking has reduced substantially, child labour continues in cottonseed industry as before”, it regrets. Releasing details of the study in Ahmedabad, CLRA, together with the Adivasi Sarvangi Vikas Sangh (ASVS), have called upon the seed industry to clean up its act.
“Instead of trying to hide child labour by shifting production to tribal areas, it should look upon the main cause of child labour – low prices paid by the seed companies to farmers that make it difficult for farmers to hire adult workers”, the two organizations, which released photographs to substantiate their claims, insist.
Pointing out that this fact has also been “brought out in studies undertaken by V Davulari, who has undertaken a number of studies in child labour in cottonseed industry over the last decade”, they have asked Gujarat’s labour department “to take note of the altered practices in the industry and devise new strategy to eliminate child labour from cottonseed production.”

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