Thiruvananthapuram : The implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), flag-ship programme of the UPA Government, has led to shortage of labour and increase in the wages of farm workers in Kerala, according to a survey.
The Kerala University’s field survey conducted in Palakkad District, the largest paddy producing district in the state, has found that the basic problem faced by farmers was the acute shortage of labour.
As a major share of paddy cultivation depended on hired labour, the implementation of NREGS has led to increase in wage rate and escalation in cost of cultivation, the survey headed by Head of Economic Department B A Prakesh said.
Withdrawal of young people from agriculture was found to be main reason for shortage of labour. Paddy cultivation involved physical labour and youth especially those having school education considered the agriculture work a dirty job, the survey report said.
Employment opportunities in non-agriculture sector, chances for migration of labour to other parts of the country and abroad also discouraged youth from doing agriculture work, the survey report compiled in April 2008 said.
Along with rapid mechanisation of paddy farming and harvesting to solve the labour shortage, the survey wanted the government to suspend the NREGS during the peak agriculture seasons.
The survey conducted during months of June-July 2007 also asked the centre and other states to follow favourable policies to promote the mechanisation of agriculture through appropriate initiatives like provision of subsidies, tax exemption, interest waiver and other measures.
The survey also suggested withdrawal of all taxes on farm machinery and other capital stock required for agriculture operations to make paddy cultivation profitable and economically viable to small and marginal farmers.
On loans of farmers, it said marginal farmers faced more distress and top priority should be given to them in determining norms for giving relief to farmers.
The survey found that 40% of the sample households had taken loans mainly from co-operative banks and commercial banks.
The amount borrowed ranged from below Rs20,000 to Rs3 lakhs plus. A majority of the farmers who had borrowed belonged to the marginal category of farmers, the survey said.
The money borrowed was utilised not only for cultivation purpose but also to repair and construct houses, meet expenditures of marriage of farmily members, medical treatemnt, education of children and purchase of consumer durables.
Regarding loans taken from commercial banks and co-operative banks, the survey found that around 55% of the farmers had not made any repayment so far.
Another interesting finding was that financial problem was not the sole reason for the repayment of the majority of loans availed from co-operative and commercial banks.
“Majority of the farmers who availed loans are not repaying due to the expectation that the state government or the Farmers Debt Relief Commission will announce debt relief to them,” the survey said.