Debating India


Misery and migration

Friday 12 March 2004, by SREENIVASULU*D.

THE migration of hordes of farm workers to far-off places in search of work, drought conditions that continue for the third consecutive year, the failure of major irrigation systems, falling agricultural prices, the displacement of handloom workers, and an outbreak of tuberculosis among the Chenchu population in Kurnool district give an impression that distress is all-pervasive. Even urban businessmen complain of falling turnover because of a lack of disposable income with the rural people.

in Kurnool

According to an estimate, over three lakh agricultural labourers have migrated to Guntur, Cuddapah, Hyderabad and other places of the State in search of work during the lean season. Even leaders of a major political party expressed their helplessness to mobilise crowds for public meetings because very few people were available in some villages. The migrations have taken place mainly from the villages falling under Aluru, Adoni, Yemmiganur, Pathikonda, Kodumur and Dhone Assembly constituencies in the district. The families leave their native villages immediately after Sankranti festival in January and return only towards the end of May in time for the next agricultural season back home.

In some villages, around two-thirds of the population, mostly small farmers owning five to10 acres, have deserted their homes leaving the aged people behind. Even children have accompanied their parents. Communist Party of India district secretary P. Bhimlingappa says farmers with 20 acres (eight hectares) of land, who led a dignified life in villages a decade ago, have been moving to unknown places. This only indicates the falling status of farming.

The migrating families are well aware of the strenuous life ahead at the new place. They know they will have no roof over their heads and no privacy. After a day’s work, the women send their children to the village to beg for food, which would save them the drudgery of cooking. "We are not beggars in our native place, but conditions force us to beg in the new place," Maddileti, who has been a migrant worker for several years in the past, said.

Some 3,000 people, out of a population of 4,100, migrated from the hamlets of Eddupenta in the Dhone constituency. Analysing the trend, district secretary of the AP Farm Workers Union, K. Ramanjaneyulu, says that the farm workers do not get employment for more than 90 days in the village.

Interestingly, the migrant families are considered "well-off". Most of them were able to repay the debt caused by losses in agriculture and also give loans to others in their native villages at high interest rates. The debt-free life of the migrant families is encouraging others to emulate them. The idea gaining ground is that the life of a farm worker is less stressful than that of a small farmer.

The failure of the monsoon and major irrigation systems in the district for three consecutive years has had a severe impact on the agriculture sector and the people dependent on it. Out of a population of 36 lakhs, 77 per cent lives in rural areas directly or indirectly depending on agriculture alone. The KC Canal, the Tungabhadra High Level Canal (HLC), the Low Level Canal (LLC), the Gajuladinne project and the Srisailam canals have failed to supply water for irrigation.

Farmers under the KC Canal lost seven rabi (summer) crops on account of canal modernisation works. Paddy could not be cultivated as a monsoon crop for the past three years because of poor flow in the Tungabhadra. The canal is designed to irrigate 2.86 lakh acres in Kurnool district and 92,000 acres in Cuddapah district during both crop seasons. The BPT 5204 variety of paddy cultivated under the canal area acquired the brand name Kurnool Sona for the grain’s finer cooking quality and thin size. The financial loss to farmers on account of the failure of the paddy crops is estimated at Rs.300 crores. The land prices under the KC Canal have declined from Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre to Rs.50,000. Dry land in Aluru and Pathikonda is offered at Rs.10,000 an acre.

farmers under the HLC in Aluru area stopped paddy cultivation four years ago because of the short supply of water. Also, the paddy area under the LLC has shrunk from 1.51 lakh acres to 40,000 acres. The Gajuladinne project is intended to irrigate 18,000 acres but the authorities declared a crop holiday last year to divert water for the drinking needs of towns. This year, only 11,000 acres received water. Out of 163 minor irrigation sources, including 149 tanks with an ayacut of 66,200 acres, about 5,000 acres received water. The cut in power supply time from 12 hours to seven hours also affected the agricultural sector. The Srisailam right main canal has not drawn any water from the reservoir in the past two years.

The rainfall in the past two years was 20 per cent below the normal of 670 mm. In 2001-02, although the rainfall was normal cumulatively, dry spells during the peak crop season caused extensive damage. The cropping pattern also underwent drastic changes in the district with areas traditionally under paddy, groundnut and cotton giving in to sunflower, Bengal gram and castor. The crop shift led to a serious fodder shortage in the district. In most of the dryland areas, farmers resorted to the practice of maintaining a single draught animal to be paired with the animal of their neighbours for agriculture operations. Only large farmers could afford a pair of bulls.

The falling volume of commodities arriving at the agriculture market yard in Kurnool speaks of the farm sector crisis. groundnut arrival declined from 3.86 lakh quintals in 1999-2000 to 1.61 lakh quintals this year; ajwain came down from 65,405 quintals in 1999 to 27,000 quintals; onion declined from 3.56 lakh quintals to 2.73 lakh quintals. The volume of sunflower rose from 1.29 lakh quintals to 2.68 lakh quintals. (However, last year the sunflower production was 3.91 lakh quintals.) Sunflower, on which most of the farmers pinned their hopes, failed them by giving an average yield of 2 quintals an acre. Except in the case of oilseeds, commodity prices have shown a declining trend in the past five years.

The agriculture crisis has hit other businesses too. Dealers in fertilizers and pesticides say their trade volumes have been declining since 1998. People in other trades, such as jewellery merchants, cloth-sellers and those running even nursing homes, have complained of a fall in revenue. About 50,000 weaver families are out of work in the district. Only the real estate business, propelled by the loans sanctioned liberally by financial institutions, is booming.

See online : Frontline


in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 05, February 28 - March 12, 2004.

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