Hit by a labour shortage caused by migrant workers returning to their home states due to the coronavirus crisis, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has asked the Centre to allow farm operations in 2020-21 under MGNREGA.
Sowing and harvesting are not among the jobs normally carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
Punjab has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to direct the Union Ministry of Rural Development to allow farm operations in the coming kharif and rabi seasons under the scheme.
Singh suggested that the Union ministry of rural development could, in consultation with the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare, designate a specific number of man-days per acre (for paddy and wheat) that may be allowed under MGNREGS.
The chief minister said that the initiative would help mitigate the rising labour costs for farmers, promote rural employment, and most importantly, help in preserving food security this unprecedented global crisis on the other.
Pointing out that both the Centre and states are collectively engaged in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Singh said the central government, in its recent economic stimulus package, announced additional funds to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore under MGNREGS.
Drawing Modi's attention towards the "problem of farm labour shortage in agricultural states, especially Punjab, as a result of the migration of labour", Singh said such a situation is likely to impact agricultural operations adversely during the transplantation of paddy in June, as a large proportion of the labour engaged in these operations is seasonal migrant labour from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
"Given the rising spread of the disease as well as return of migrants to their native states, it is unlikely that Punjab will see any return of migrant farm labour for the coming Kharif season," added Singh.
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