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Agricultural Labour

Booklet No. 501 Agricultural Situation in India: ASJS - 2


Contents Preface I. Introduction II. Meaning and Definition of Agricultural Labour III. Characteristics of Agricultural Labour IV. Categories of Agricultural Labourers V. Present Position of Agricultural Labour in India VI. Causes of Poor Economic Conditions of Agricultural Labourers VII. Government Measures Pertaining to Agricultural Labour VIII. Suggestions for Improvement Preface The most disquieting feature of Indian rural economy has been the growth in the number of agricultural labourers engaged in crop production. They get unusually low wages, conditions of work put an excessive burden on them and employment which they get is extremely irregular. This booklet deals with these major aspects of the agricultural labour. Dr. K. T. Chandy, Agricultural & Environmental Education I. Introduction It is widely known to every body that the agricultural workers are the most neglected class in the Indian masses. Growth in the number of agricultural workers-including the cultivators and agricultural labourers engaged in crop production, has been the most disquieting features of the rural economy of India. The phenomena of underemployment, underdevelopment, feeling of want, poverty etc. are simultaneously lives of agricultural labourers. They get unusually low wages for the work done under the worst conditions put in excessively burdens on hard work. The opportunity to work is extremely irregular; hence their income is also low. Since, they possess no skill or training, they have no alternative employment opportunities either. Socially, a large number of agricultural labourers belong to schedule castes and schedule tribes. Hence, they are an oppressed class. They are not organized and cannot fight for their rights. Because of all these reasons, their economic lot has failed to improve even after four decades of developmental efforts. Hence, the problems of agricultural labour are manifold and are mainly centered round the basic problems of rural economy which include low income, low productivity and lack of continuous employment. There is a need to tackle these problems successfully through the more intensive programmes of development in order to improve the socio-economic conditions and prospects of agricultural labourers. II. Meaning and Definition of Agricultural Labour Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee defined agricultural labour as a person who, for more than half of the total number of days, worked as an agricultural labour. An agricultural labour may be the small or marginal farmer or an artisan, but when a person derives his main earning by doing some agricultural work on others farm is called an agricultural labour.

The First Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee (ALEC) in 1950-.51 defined this as "those people who are engaged in raising crops on payment of wages." The basis of this definition was thus the quantum of hired employment during the period of any year. Accordingly, the Committee laid down that those people should be regarded as agricultural workers who worked for 50% or more days on payment of wages. The committee also defined on agricultural labour household. If the head of household or 50% or more ot: the earners report agricultural labour as their main occupation, that family should be classified as an agricultural labour household. The Second Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee (1956-.57) adopted income as a criterion for demarcating agricultural labour families. As person was deemed to be an agricultural labourer and family agricultural house hold if his or her or families major source of income during the previous year was from agricultural wage. The changeover, from "work" to "income" seemed more scientific. However, even this was not without flaws. It is difficult to define the term "agricultural labour" in precise terms. The reason is that unless capitalism develops fully in agriculture, a separate class of workers depending wholly on wages does not come up. Since the capitalist relations are in an under-developed state in India, such clear-cut class of agricultural workers has not yet evolved. Difficulties in defining agricultural labour are compounded by the fact that many small and marginal farmers also work partly on the farms of others to supplement their income. To what extent should they be considered agricultural labourers is not easy to answer. In the context of Indian conditions the definition is not adequate because it is not possible to completely separate those working on wages from others. There are people who do not work as wages throughout the year but only for a part of it. Hence, the first AL.E.C. used the concept of "agricultural labour household". This concept was based upon the occupation of the worker. But the second A.L.E C. substituted income criteria and said that an "agricultural labour household" is one whose main source of income is wages from agriculture." According to National Commission on labour, an agricultural labourer is one "who is basically unskilled and unorganized and has little for his livelihood other than personal labour", Thus, agricultural workers whose main source of income is in the form of wages obtained as a result of working on land fall in this group. These workers have nothing except their labour to earn livelihood, They are unskilled and unorganized, It consist of two sub-categories: i. landless agricultural labour, and ii, very small cultivators whose main source of earnings, due to their small and sub-marginal holdings, is wage employment. Landless labour in turn can be classified into two broad categories: a, permanent labour attached to a cultivating household, and b, casual labour. The second group can again be sub-divided into three subgroups: cultivators, sharecroppers and lease holders. Permanent or attached labourers generally work on annual or seasonal basis and they work on some sort of contract. Their wages are determined by custom or tradition. On the other hand, temporary or casual labourers are engaged only during peak period for work. Their employment is temporary and they are paid at the market rate. They are not attached to any landlord.

Under the second group come small farmers who possess very little land and therefore, have to devote most of their time working on the lands of others as labourers. Share-croppers are those who, while sharing the produce of the land for their work, also work as labourers. Tenants are those who not only work on the leased land but also work as labourers. The Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee differentiated between the "attached" and "casual" labourers. The former are those who are employed for a period of times i.e., on annual or seasonal basis by the assignment of lodging on the farm, who are under some sort of contract with the employers, and in whose case the mode of payment is determined by custom and tradition. They are to work for their employers and are not ordinarily free to seek employment elsewhere, while the latter, ie., the casual are engaged in peak period and attend to rush work only. Such labourers are free to leave one job for another whenever they please and they are paid at the market rates. In most cases, the difference between the two classes is stated initially in terms of period for which a man is engaged and whether or not he receives daily wages. According to the First Agricultural Lahour enquiry (1950- 51), 90% of the total agricultural labour families were 10% attached and 90% casual workers. The corresponding figures for the second enquiry (1956-57) are 27% and 73% respectively. The percentage of agricultural labour in rural population was 30.4, of which 50 percent were without land at the time of first enquiry. During the second enquiry these figures were 24.5 percent and 57 percent respectively. This brief analysis is enough to prove that even the experts are not agreed upon the definition of agricultural labour. Accordingly, we must remain content with a working definition. All those persons who derive a major part of their income as payment for work performed on the farms of others, can be designated as agricultural workers. For a major part of the year they should work on the land of others on wages. III. Characteristics of Agricultural Labour There are certain peculiar characteristics of agricultural labour that help us to distinguish them from industrial labour. 1. Organization among agricultural worker Agricultural labour is unorganized. Unlike industrial units, agricultural workers need not work in unions. A lack of contact between workers makes it impossible to develop any meaningful organization. Industrial workers protect their interest by organizing themselves into trade unions, but agricultural workers could not organize themselves because they live in distant places and do not work in large number at one place. It was suggested that workers should organize themselves through cooperative societies. It should be noted that conditions in this respect are improving with the agricultural development, spread of education and political consciousness among agricultural workers. 2. Agricultural workers are basically unskilled They may not be skilled even in the art of cultivation. Consequently, their supply is perfectly elastic, and therefore, whatever, they earn is in the nature of transfer earnings. The employer often uses this position to his personal gain by contracting to pay less than what the market forces would have warranted otherwise.

3. Agricultural labour is migratory It can be drawn from a distant place to the place of work during a busy season. 4. A person of low means This will be a situation when a small farmer employs another small farmer who may not have sufficient work to do by himself. A direct contact, therefore, between the employer and the worker is a distinct characteristic of agricultural labour. 5. Lack of legal protection Agricultural labor is though covered by agricultural minimum wages rules and regulations, but usually they are flouted more often than observed in rural areas. 6. Nature of employment During 1974-75, there has been an all round decrease in the estimated number of days of wage employment. Where as; in self-employment a definite trend in Rural Labour households taking up more and more self-employment is evident despite the fact that there has been less opportunities for the labourers to earn their wages from the non-agricultural operations. Men worked for more days as compared to women and children. However, the children remained engaged in wage paid employment for more days as compared to women labourers (table 1 & table 2). Table 1: Employment (Number of full days in a year) of Agricultural Labourers (All India) Sl.No 1 a. b. 2 a. b. 3 a. b. Men Wage Employment i. Agricultural ii. Non-Agricultural Self-Employment Women Wage Employment i. Agricultural ii. Non-Agricultural Self-Employment Children Wage Employment i. Agricultural ii. Non-Agricultural Self-Employment Agricultural Labour 1964-65 242 217 25 25 160 149 11 18 224 207 17 22 All Rural Household Labour 1974-75 1964-65 215 193 22 28 149 138 11 24 194 178 16 39 245 219 26 25 172 161 11 18 223 207 16 22 Household 1974-75 214 192 22 28 148 137 11 24 193 177 16 39

Table 2 reveals that average daily earnings of all the labourers (men, women and children) engaged in agricultural and non-agricultural operations recorded sharp increase (in money terms) during 1974-75 over the earnings reported in the previous enquiry. The average daily earnings of men for all agricultural operations increased by about 127 percent, for women about 139 percent and that for children about 153 percent during 1974-75 as compared to the last enquiry. How- ever, there was no remarkable variation between the average earnings for all agricultural and non-agricultural operations as also between the agricultural and all rural labour

households. However, there is a notable difference between the earnings of men in agricultural and non-agricultural operations and be- longing to all rural labour households. Table 2 : Average Daily Earnings in Agricultural and Non-Agricultural Operations Sl.No I i. ii. iii. II i. ii. iii. Agricultural Labour 1964-65 All Agricultural Operations Men 1.43 Women 9.95 Children 0.72 Non- Agricultural Operations Men 1.54 Women 0.92 Children 0.74 Household 1974-75 3.34 2.27 1.82 3.27 2.12 1.84 All Rural Labour 1964-65 1.41 0.89 0.76 1.88 1.18 0.81 Household 1974-75 3.26 2.27 1.82 4.09 2.34 1.84

7. Indebtedness per household It is evident from the Table 3 that the percentage of households in debt increased from 60.6 in 1964-65 to 66.4 in 1974- 75. The corresponding figure for all rural labour households stood at 65.4 in 1974-75 as against 59.2 during 1964-65. As regards the average debt per indebted household, the situation corresponding became grave by registering an increase of about 139 and 141 percent in respect of agricultural and all rural labour households respectively. This table further reveals that money lenders continued to be the traditional source of borrowing. Borrowings were largely made for consumption purposes and the average debt per indebted household raised for production purposes was the lowest. Table 3: Indebtedness among the agricultural labourers. Sl.No 1 2 3 Agricultural Labour 1964-65 All agricultural operations Percentage of 60.6 households in debt Average debt per 148 household (Rs) Average debt per 244 indebted household (Rs) Household 1974-75 66.4 387 584 All rural Labour 1964-65 59.2 148 251 Household 1974-75 65.4 395 605

8. Seasonality in employment National Commission on Labour has pointed out that intensity of employment varies according to seasons. Shortage of lahour is actually felt during peak agricultural seasons in several areas and a large proportion of labour remains unemployed or under-employed during the slack season. However, the trend towards reduction in under-employment has strengthened since 1961. The extent of improvement is not uniform. In areas where farmers have to take advantage of new agricultural labour has been provided with work more or less throughout the year.

9. Distribution of additional labour force by sector of activity National Commission on Labour pointed out that in the 15 years between 1961 and 1976 increase in the non-agricultural working force will have to be 102 percent against a corresponding increase of only about 36 percent between 1951 and 1961. This means that the rate of absorption of labour outside agriculture between 1961-1976 will have to be roughly double of that witnessed in the year 1951-1961. The commission further pointed out that the number of workers depending on agriculture for their livelihood will increase substantially, from 116.5 millions in 1961 to 138.6 millions in 1976, that is by 22 millions. 10. Hours of work The hours of work of agricultural labour are not regulated by legislation. Hours of work vary from place to place, crop to crop and season to season. It should be noted that the working hours of agricultural labourers are not very long. Generally, agricultural labourers work for about 8 hours a day with a break of two hours. There are few occasions when an agricultural labour has to work for longer hours, that is, during harvest season; but during this time he is also paid well. It has also been found that piece workers often work for lesser number of hours while they earn more. 11. Housing conditions The housing conditions of agricultural labourers are miserable and deplorable. Their houses are generally situated at places where insanitary conditions of highest order are found. They are not well built and worst of its kinds. Thus, because of insanitary conditions, lack of accommodation and poor standard of living, the agricultural workers are subjected to diseases which are infectious in nature. IV. Categories of Agricultural Labourers In respect of agricultural labour, National Commission on Labour, stated that, workers in agricultural sector are distributed into three main categories: i. cultivators, ii. agricultural labour, and iii. workers engaged in forestry, fishing and live- stock, etc. In the Indian context, the basic classification, attached labourers are attached to some cultivator household on the basis of a written or oral agreement. Their employment is permanent and regular. Accordingly, whenever, the master wishes, they are ready to work on his land. Normally, they are not free to work at any other place. In many instances, attached labourers also do the task of domestic servants in addition to working on land. The hours of work are very lengthy and in some cases, attached agricultural labourers have to work from dawn to dusk in the houses and farms of their employers. While the casual workers, are free to work on the farm of any farmer and payment is generally made to them on a daily basis. There are broadly three types of casual agricultural workers in India: i. Small fanners: who have very small holdings and are thus forced to work on the farms of others to make both ends meet; ii. tenants: who work on leased land but this is not their main source of income (the main source of income being work performed on the land of others); and ill. share-croppers: who besides sharing the produce of land cultivated by them, also work as labourers.

V. Present Position of Agricultural Labour in India Agricultural labour is provided mostly by economically and socially backward sections; poor sections from the tribes also fall in this rank. The first group of agricultural workers has been more or less in the position of serfs or slaves; they are also known as bonded labour. They do not normally receive wages in cash but are generally paid in kind. They have to work for their masters and cannot shift from one to another. They have to provide beggar or forced labour. In some cases, they have to offer cash and also supply fowls and goats to their masters. 1. Magnitude of Agricultural Labour Accurate figures about the number, income, standard of living, etc. of rural labour are not available. But some information is available in the form of the reports of committees and commissions. According to the second agricultural labour enquiry published in 1960, agricultural labour families constituted nearly 25% of all rural families. According to this, more than 85% of the rural workers are casual, serving any farmer who is willing to engage them and only in percent of agricultural labourers are attached to specific landlords. More than half of the workers do not possess any land, and even the rest of them own only very little of land. Agricultural labourers predominantly belong to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes. (Between 75 and 80 percent scheduled castes). It has been seen that agricultural labourers who numbered .31 million in 1961 have increased to 59 million in 1981 this has to be seen in the background of the increase of total rural labour force which increased from 174 million in 1964-65 to 226 million in 1981. As a proportion of the total rural labour force, the percentage of landless labourers has increased from 18 percent in 1964-65 to 25 percent in 1981. Another finding has shown that the days on which an agricultural labourer is employed have declined. Official data about land distribution indicate that 61 percent of the rural households either own no land or small fragments of land or marginal uneconomic holdings of less than 1 hectare. Taken together, 61 % of households own barely 8% of cultivated area. Out of them, 22% households own no land at all; another 25% own less than half a hectare (1.2 acre). Thus, these marginal farmers are the recruits in the army of landless labourers, since, they subsist at the border of the poverty line and have been gradually slipping below poverty line. VI. Causes of Poor Economic Conditions of Agricultural Labourers There are a number of factors responsible for the continuous and enormous increase in the number of agricultural labourers in India. The important ones are given here. 1. Low social status Most agricultural workers belong to the depressed classes which have been neglected for ages. The low caste and the depressed classes have been socially handicapped and they had never the courage to assert themselves. 2. Unorganized Agricultural workers are illiterate and ignorant. They live in scattered villages. Hence, they cannot easily be organized in unions.

3. Seasonal employment The agricultural workers do not have continuous work. On an average a farm labourer finds employment for about 200 days in a year and for the rest of the year he is idle. Unemployment and underemployment are two important factors responsible for low income and consequently low economic position of the agricultural workers in India. But, the nature of agricultural work is such that a farm is seasonal and intermittent 4. Paucity of non-agricultural jobs Paucity of non-agricultural occupations in village areas is another important factor for their low wages and poor economic conditions. The growing pressure of population is increasingly felt in rural areas and the number of landless labourers is steadily increasing. 5. Rural indebtedness Agricultural labour is heavily indebted Normally, the farm labourers borrow from the landowners under whom they work. Since, they have no security to offer, they pledge themselves to the moneylenders and rich landlords and become bonded labourers in many areas. Naturally, they will be forced to accept lower wages. 6. Increase in population With the increasing population, it is generally not possible to provide increasing employment opportunities in these sectors, and thus, increase in the number of agricultural labourers. VII. Government Measures Pertaining to Agricultural Labour Soon after Independence, the centre as well as the State Government have taken some measures to improve the economic condition of agricultural labour. 1. Indian Constitution The Indian constitution has declared the practice of serfdom an offense. It has abolished agrarian slavery including forced labour by law but it will take some time before it is removed in practice. 2. Minimum Wages Act The Minimum Wages Act was passed in 1948, according to which every State Government was asked to fix minimum wages for agricultural labour within three years. The minimum wages are fixed keeping in view the total costs and standard of living. Since, conditions in various parts of the country are different and even within a state the law allows different rates of wages to be fixed. In practice minimum wages are very difficult to enforce effectively. In many states, the rates are fixed even below the current rates of wages. In practices, it has failed to increase the wages and earnings of agricultural labour. 3. Other legislative measures The Zamindari system has been abolished by law in all the states and with that all the exploitation associated with the system has been removed. Besides, tenancy laws have been passed in most of the states protecting the interests of the tenants and labourers and enabling them to acquire the lands they cultivate. Many states have passed legislation fixing ceiling on agricultural holdings by which the maximum amount of land which a person can hold has been fixed by law. 4. Organization of labour cooperatives

During the Second Five-year plan, effort were made to encourage the formation of labour co-operatives. These cooperatives whose members are workers undertake the contract of government projects, such as, construction of roads, digging of canals and tanks, afforestation etc. They provide employment to agricultural workers during off-season and also eliminate the possible exploitation of workers by the private contractors. 5. Employment Guarantee Scheme The Governrnent of Maharashtra introduced in 1977 the Employment Guarantee Scheme under which any able b()died person in rural areas can apply for a job. The rate of wages will not be such as to attract agricultural workers from their normal employment in agricultural operations. The Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme is being adopted by other states as well Jawahar Rozgar Yojana launched by the Central Government in 1989 is a further step in this direction. 6. Special Area Programme During the earlier stages, the Government had conceived of community development programmes as instruments of rural transformation that would include agricultural lahourers too. Subsequently, however, it was found more viable to carry out such programmes more intensively in selected districts and areas. With this view a number of special area programmes were conceived among them a specific mention need to he made of small farmers 'Development Agency, Marginal Farmers' and Agricultural Labourers' Development Agency Programme, etc. 7. Land reclamation and settlement Land reclamation measures have been intensified in different parts of the country. Land so secured has been distributed among the landless agricultural labourers. Similarly, resettlement schemes have included provision of land 10 this class of workers, credit facilities and other schemes which can prove effective instruments of their upliftment. Among these schemes, a specific mention need to be made of the Bhoodan movement. This movement aimed at a solution of the problem of landless agricultural labourers by a redistribution of land on a voluntary basis. The movement, however, failed to solve the problem in a big way. 8. Abolition of bonded labour The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, has been enacted. Under this act, every bonded labourer stands liberated and discharged all obligations to render bonded labour. As with other legislative measures, this piece of legislation has also fallen through because of lack of enforcement. 9. Provision of housing sites Laws have been passed in several states for providing house sites in villages to agricultural workers. A number of steps were undertaken during the Second Plan to provide house sites free or on a subsidized basis. During Fourth Plan a scheme was introduced under which financial assistance was given to the states for provision of house sites with an area of 91 sq. meters to cover, where necessary, the cost of acquisition and development of house sites. The Minimum Needs Programme (MNP) and the 20-point programme give a high priority to the rural house site-cum-house construction scheme. 10. Other measures Various other measure adopted by the government tram time-to-time have either directly or indirectly sought to improve the condition of agricultural workers. For instance, promotion of

small and cottage industries and village handicrafts and development of industrial estates in rural areas have created job opportunities for agricultural workers. VIII. Suggestions for Improvement The following suggestions can be made for improving the position of agricultural workers. 1. Better implementation of legislative measures Though the Minimum Wages Act was passed as far back as in 1948, yet its implementation leaves much to be desired. There is no administrative machinery worth the name to implement effectively the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act. Even other wise, fixation of minimum wages in an era of continuous and exorbitant rise in prices carries no consolation for the starved masses of agricultural workers. Hence, it is necessary to provide for periodical revision of minimum wages keeping the changing price trends in view. 2. Improving the bargaining position Special efforts should be directed towards organizing agricultural workers. It is only such organisation that can improve their bargaining power and ensure better wages and better conditions of work for them. This is not easy because the large farmers and big landlords are economically and socially very powerful. Because of their unlimited power they have succeeded in pinning down whatever little attempts were made by agricultural workers to organize themselves in some parts of the country. 3. Resettlement of agricultural workers The surplus land and newly reclaimed land should be allotted only to agricultural workers. However, there are physical limitations to this programme. The supply of land is very much limited in relation to the number of agricultural workers. To cope with this problem, steps can be taken to set up cooperative farms or state farms where employment at fair wages can be provided to the agricultural labourers. 4. Creating alternative sources of employment The best policy is to create ample employment opportunities outside the field of agriculture. Because of the pressure on land of increasing population it is becoming more and more difficult to absorb additional labour on farms and unless other sectors of the economy create ample employment opportunities it will not be possible to solve the problems of agricultural workers. Perhaps, the best strategy would be to promote labour intensive industries in rural areas. For this purpose facilities of power, finance and training rural youth should be provided in the villages. This will reduce the dependence of agricultural workers on land and increase their incomes. 5. Improving the working conditions It is necessary to improve the working conditions of agricultural workers. Their hours of work should be statutorily fixed and strictly enforced. Incase of work beyond the stipulated hours, overtime payments should be made. Child labour should be totally banned. 6. Public work programmes A major problem of many agricultural workers is that they are employed only for a part of the year, for example, during sowing and harvesting. For the remaining part of the year they remain unemployed. The period of inactivity may vary from three months to six months. During this period, it is necessary to organize rural works programme like construction of roads, school

buildings, digging of canals, wells, etc. so that employment can be provided to agricultural workers all the year round. 7. Raising the standard of living The state can, if it wishes, organize special programmes to improve the standard of living of agricultural workers. Since a large proportion of such workers belong to scheduled castes, they are not allowed to take water from village wells. State can arrange for drinking water for them. State can also provide housing sites to agricultural workers so that they do not remain houseless. State can organize fair price shops in rural areas to save agricultural workers who generally sell goods at high prices. To improve the socio-economic environment in which agricultural labourers work, State can provide amenities of rural life like health centres, maternity wards, sports facilities, clubs, etc. special programmes for vocational and technical training of agricultural workers can also be arranged. 8. Social security Agricultural labour has no social security, no earned leave, no sick leave and no pension or gratuity. Substantial efforts should be directed in this field. Since, these labourers are not permanently attached to any employer, the task of providing social security is indeed a complex one. Thus, this responsibility has to be borne by the State. These measures can go along way in solving most of the problems of agricultural workers. As stated earlier, the basic task is to distribute surplus land amongst agricultural workers and provide additional employment opportunities in villages through the development of small and cottage industries. General improvement in the working conditions, enforcement of legislative measures, provision of social security, etc. ate all secondary to the above two measures. %%%%%%%%