National Commission on Labour (1967)||
28.23 It is not necessary for us to present data on the extent of chronic under-employment and poor living conditions of agricultural labour. The magnitude and gravity of this problem are obvious even without precise statistics. What needs to be stressed is that programmes and developments envisaged so far fall far short of requirements and the situation is gradually developing into an emergency needing treatment on that scale. There has been an acceleration in the rate of growth of the rural labour force, and even after taking into account its absorption within agriculture and outside, direct and indirect employment, and migration to urban areas, the prospects for employment and earnings of agricultural labour are not encouraging. We have already assessed in the preceding paragraphs the direct programmes and policies adopted hitherto in this respect. Among other plan proposals and programmes that have a bearing on agricultural labour the following may be specifically stated:
(i) changes in the agrarian structure, including development of co-operative farming and land resettlement programmes;
(ii) industrial growth, and more specially diffusion of industry into small towns and rural areas;
(iii) provision of house sites for Scheduled Castes;
(iv) effective implementation of minimum wage legislation;
(v) creation of a special cell within Government for watching closely the progress of development programmes which have a particular bearing on the welfare and development of agricultural workers;
and (vi) study of special problems which confront them in different parts of the country.
It is true that these measures will make some contribution in providing relief to agricultural labour. It is also true that rural electrification and diversification and dispersal of industries, development of agro-based industries, encouragement of ancillary and rural industries, increased outlays on infra-structure and construction in the rural areas, as well as emphasis on labour-intensive techniques in the flexible production areas besides adoption of scientific farming and priority development of agriculture, will enlarge farm and non-farm employment in the countryside and raise productivity and earnings. But even when all this has been taken into account, unemployment and low earnings of agricultural labour will continue to be a serious problem. We recognise that the ultimate solution lies in industrialisation which is also necessary for agricultural development. But this will take its own time, however much its pace may be quickened. Meanwhile we suggest that the building up of the agricultural infra-structure through labour-intensive techniques be undertaken through oragnisations of labour cooperatives to provide employment to the surplus rural labour force. This may be integrated with a progressive building-up of the educational social overheads to provide employment to the educated youth who have migrated mostly from the countryside. These programmes have the merit of
enlarging the development base through the unemployed and hence at little cost to the economy.
28.24 The concept of generation of employment on an emergency basis is not new nor that of organisation of workers into a labour corps to migrate within certain limits from locality to locality where work may be available. Several instances of this type of organisation were brought to our notice during our observation visits. The suggestion to organise a 'land army' belongs to this category. The obligation to provide gainful employment to distressed population in times of famine has long been accepted, and in such emergencies, large labour force has been given employment on relief works. Our view that the Government should undertake provision of rural employment to build the infra-structure amounts to a recognition by the State that the present unemployment situation is such as would require a solution on emergency basis. It is important that the offer of employment should not be made to appear as if it is a measure of relief, but that it should emerge out of a recognition of the right of every citizen to gainful work. A firm declaration of public policy in this matter and in pursuance of the Constitutional provision is long overdue.
28.25 To begin with, pilot programmes should be introduced in selected areas. The various steps involved after the initial recognition of the obligation are: (a) drawing up the conditions of work, (b) enlisting persons who need work on these conditions, (c) discovering and planning productive works for them to be employed on, and (d) efficient execution of these works. The programme will have to be organised and administered at the district level as an integral part of rural development. We expect that at the district level, the labour corps will not be too large to handle nor too small to be put to constructive work. The organisation of the corps on a district basis will give an area wide enough to discover and plan productive works on a continuous basis, and small enough for labour to migrate for accepting employment.
28.26 The organisation of rural labour in such corps should not mean their permanent and irrevocable withdrawal from agriculture when enough employment is available in agriculture, or when agriculture suffers because of shortage of labour. The corps should be able to adjust its operations to suit the peak time needs of agriculture, such as sowing, harvesting, and the like and accept such work on contract. We envisage that major problems in this field are administrative and organisational. If emergency situations can be tackled by our administrative system with a fair measure of efficiency, why can it not take on this task too? In some States, distress works have become a permanent feature in the rural areas in the 'sixties'. This recommendation amounts a recognition of the need for them elsewhere. An authority at the district level, such as the Zila Parishad, should be willing to undertake the administrative and organisational responsibility, create a labour corps, find productive works in which to employ the persons and execute the works efficiently and economically through labour cooperatives rather than contractors. Adequate support on an agreed basis should be made available to this body. We are not unaware of the financial implications of the proposal, but we recommend that finance for this programme should be arranged within the total resources of the community.