AGRICULTURAL workers play an important role in agricultural production, of food as well as commercial crops. They make up the largest share of all working people in our country. According to the last Census in 2011 there were 14.43 crore agricultural workers in India. This is about one third of our country’s workforce and 55 percent of the rural workforce. With continuing agrarian crisis, large numbers of small and marginal farmers are compelled to abandon cultivation and join the ranks of agricultural workers. Thus, their number has been rising steadily every year. Between 2001 and 2011, it has increased by 3.69 crore.
Agricultural workers are mostly landless labourers. But they also include very small or marginal farmers who cannot sustain themselves from their tiny land holding and are forced to work on other people’s land. They work for wages, but often their entire wage is not paid in money.
The number of workdays in agriculture in a year has gradually been coming down. It is reported that at present they get less than 30 days of work in a year. Since the BJP led Modi government came to power at the centre, the number of days of work under the MGNREGS has also come down. As a result, agricultural workers are compelled to migrate to the towns and cities in search of work. They join the lakhs of workers in the urban informal sector, who have no job security, no income security or social security. About half of the agricultural workers are dalits and adivasis.
Agricultural workers, who play important role in agricultural production, comprise large section of the poor in our country, facing hunger, intense drudgery, social oppression and deprivation. Their wages are very low. Women agricultural workers usually get much lower wages than men.
Women who comprise majority of agricultural workers do not have maternity benefits. The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana of the Modi government provides Rs 6000 as ‘partial compensation of wages’, only for the first child. Considering that the Maternity Benefit Act, which is not applicable for agricultural workers provides for paid maternity of 26 weeks, this ‘partial compensation’ comes to a pittance of less than Rs 33 a day. This too comes with lot of conditions which many women agricultural workers cannot comply with and hence are denied even this. As a result, women have to work up to late stages of pregnancy and resume work within days of delivering the child. They have no crèche facilities. The young children are left in the care of the old in the family or their elder siblings. No wonder it is the women and children belonging to the agricultural worker families who comprise the majority of the malnourished in the country.
The trade unions and the organisations of agricultural workers have been demanding a comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers. During the long consultation period before the enactment of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, CITU has been consistently demanding a separate comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers covering their wages, working conditions and social security benefits. But, more than seventy years after independence, the government has failed to enact such an Act. The minimum wages declared for agricultural work remain on paper as there is no enforcement machinery.
One of the most important demands of the agricultural workers is for land. Land reforms and redistribution of land is a major measure that will not only provide a source of income and security for the agricultural workers; it will increase the purchasing capacity of vast section of people in the country, create demand and in turn boost industrialisation and employment. But the governments, serving the interests of the landlords, have not been interested in implementing land reforms. It is estimated that 5.19 crore acres of land is technically surplus, as per the limited land ceiling laws today. But out of this only 67 lakh acres have been officially declared surplus by the governments and out of this 61 lakh acres have actually been taken over and 51 lakh acres distributed to the landless families. Even out of this, major portion has been distributed by the Left led state governments in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.
The governments at the centre have been more interested in protecting the interests of the landlords than improving the conditions of the agricultural workers and other poor sections of society. Their attitude is clearly reflected not only in the non implementation of land reforms but in their apathy in enacting a comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers and in not ensuring minimum wages and other benefits to them.
Despite the claims of successive governments at the centre of implementing various schemes and programmes for improving the conditions of the poor in the country – related to housing, food security, pension and social security etc, the fact remains that the allocations for these have been too meagre. The insistence of the present BJP government on linking all the benefits with Aadhaar has proved to be disastrous for a large number of agricultural worker families.
Since the advent of neoliberal regime in our country, the governments at the centre and in many non-Left states have been consistently reducing the expenditure on welfare measures for the poor. Budgetary allocations of many central government schemes including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, National Health Mission (NHM), the Midday Meal Programme, etc have been drastically cut down. It is the women and children from agricultural workers’ families who suffer the most because of this.
The ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ on September 5, 2018 is to fight against such inhuman exploitation of the agricultural workers and the apathetic attitude of the governments committed to neoliberalism that enable the few big corporates and landlords to amass wealth at the cost of the toiling people. It is to demand land reforms and redistribution of land, comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers and social security for agricultural workers. These are not the demands of the agricultural workers alone. These are the basic measures that will enable sustained development of the country and its people. Reversal of the anti people neoliberal policies is a prerequisite for this.
- Against the governments that work for the 0.1%
- For policies that benefit the 99.9%