Apple growers in Shimla say they are faced with a labour shortage ahead of the plucking season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the government to provide respite to them.
Digvijay, an apple grower told ANI that due to outbreak of the pandemic, the inter-state movement of labourers has been drastically affected and in such an environment it is almost impossible to bring over labourers from Nepal from where the bulk of workforce used to come.
"The reason for labour shortage is COVID-19. You need passes even for inter-state transport and passes are not easy to obtain for a labourer. In such a case, crossing the international border is even more troublesome leading to troubles for our labourers who come from Nepal. We are mostly dependent on migrant labourers for the work during the season. We urge the government to provide some respite to us growers," Digvijay said.
Meanwhile, workers at the apple orchards said the staff crunch is affecting timely completion of work.
"The workers from Nepal are stopped at the border due to COVID-19, leading to a shortage of hands on the ground here. Apart from apples, vegetable farming is also affected. We get calls daily from our brothers in Nepal but there seem to be no way for getting them over," Naresh Shahi a labourer said.
However, the Principal Secretary of Agriculture, and Chief Nodal officer of Himachal Pradesh for migration during lockdown due to COVID-19, Onkar Chand Sharma, said that the State government has given relaxation for movement of migrant labourers to enter the State without permission and they can straight be put to work without any quarantine.
"We have issued an SOP for entry for migrant workers for agriculture and horticulture, along with other works ongoing in the state. The workers can be brought without sending them to quarantine, but the person bringing them should arrange for their separate accommodation and their tests will be conducted in the coming days as per the protocol," Sharma said.
"Contractors, growers who want to bring labourers from Bihar, Jharkhand or even Nepal can approach the SDM or DC and they will be issued a permit," he added.
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