Kochi: Unseasonal rains across Kerala have submerged acres of paddy fields, chiefly in Kuttanad—the state’s rice bowl—in Alappuzha district and in some areas in Thrissur, resulting in an estimated loss of more than Rs30 crore to farmers, as assessed by the state government.
The farmers blame the labour unions, saying the loss has more to do with their dislike for modernization than with the rains.
They, as well as opposition parties in the state, say trade unions affiliated to the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), were reluctant to allow the use of machines that could have helped harvest the crops before the rains started.
Opposition party leaders assembled in Kuttanad on Wednesday to symbolically run a harvesting machine in a field to protest what they termed “blind opposition to mechanization”.
The Kerala government had said it would procure paddy at Rs10 a kg.
But, with nearly two-thirds of the crop inundated and still to be harvested, chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan says the government will now buy the paddy at a lower cost to use as cattle feed.
C.K. Bodhanandan, secretary of the Travancore Karshaka Thozhilali Union, the farm labourers’ wing of the CPM, says the unions are not opposed to the use of machines if there is shortage of labour.
“As a union we have to protect the interests of the workers. We are not against mechanization... It is our policy that machinery will be used only in those places where there is labour scarcity,” he says.
Still, he admits there is a shortage and that 72 machines were brought into Kuttanad for harvesting.
“But with the showers continuing and most of the fields submerged, it is impossible to use the machines. In such places, our workers are engaged in harvesting,” Bodhanandan said.
Paddy usually takes about 120 days to ripen after sowing but, this season, the farmers had only 72 days before the rains started.
The farmers, too, say it has become imperative to start using machines for harvesting as three times the available labour force of 7,000 is needed for harvesting.
K.G. Kumar, a farmer in Kuttanad, explains that while 10 labourers are needed per day to harvest 1 acre, a machine can complete the task in 1 hour. The hourly rent for a machine is Rs1,600, while the wages for 10 labourers would be about Rs1,500.
Some of the workers and farmers supporting the CPM, on condition of anonymity, added the labour force should be trained in using machines.