Decent Work in Agriculture in India - ILO by jianghongl
















IJLE:      Indian Journal of Labour Economics
NSSO:      National Sample Survey Organization
NIRD:      National Institute of Rural Development
NCRL:      National Commission on rural Labour
NGO:       Non-Government Organization
CDF:       Co-operative Development Foundation
DDS:       Decean Development Society
INTUC:     Indian National Trade Union Congress
AITUC:     All India Trade Union Congress
BMS:       Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh
HMS:       Hind Mazdoor Sabha
UTUC:      United Trade Union Congress
NLO:       National Labour Organization
TUCC:      Trade Union Co-ordination Centre
NFITU:     National Federation of Indian Trade Union
CITU:      Centre of Indian Trade Union
SHG:       Self-Help Groups
IRDP:      Integrated Rural Development Programme
TRYSEM:    Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment
DWCRA:     Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas
MWS:       Million Wells Scheme


II. 1. Meaning and Context

The International Labour Conference (2002) in its 90th Session recognized that all those who work
have rights at work, irrespective of where they work. The goal is to promote decent work along
the entire continuum from the informal to the formal end of the economy and in development
oriented, poverty reduction focused and gender equitable work. The concept assumes special
significance for agricultural workers in India because agricultural sector, which is largely
unorganised, provides employment to about 60 per cent of the country’s total workforce.(Census
of India, 2001) Majority of agricultural workers are reported to live under abject poverty and
indebtedness due to low level of agricultural productivity, tiny holdings, unemployment and low
wages. Also they are largely illiterate and unskilled which prevent their upward mobility.(Haque
and Naidu, 1999) In addition, there are reports of discrimination against women workers in
agricultural labour market in terms of both wages and access to employment (Haque, 1998) and
also a large incidence of child / bonded labour (Haque, 2000) which make the conditions of work
and living highly indecent and regressive. As the International Labour Conference, 2002 put it, to
achieve decent work and reduce poverty both in the immediate and in the longer term, there is a
need to tackle the root causes and not just the negative manifestations. Measures to improve
labour rights, enhance social protection, invest in knowledge and skills of workers or provide them
with credit and other support services are all critical, but not enough. The root causes include the
legal and institutional obstacles that make it difficult for worker to become or to stay formal; the
policies of national governments that often directly or indirectly constrain employment creation in
the formal economy, the absence or lack of access to strong and effective market and non-market
institutions; demographic trends including large scale rural-urban migration, discrimination
against women and other disadvantaged groups and the lack of representation and voice. Until
and unless the root causes are dealt with effectively, there can be no sustainable move towards
recognized, protected and decent work.

According to Gerry Rodgers (IJLE, 2001), there are four main dimensions of decent work i.e., (i)
work and employment itself, (ii) the rights at work; (iii) security; and (iv) representation and
dialogue. First, people need to have enough work as a source of income. But it is not enough to
have work. The employment goal of a worker includes adequate opportunities for productive and
meaningful work in decent conditions – taking into account working time and work intensity, the
need for a living income, the possibilities for personal development and the opportunities to use
one’s capabilities. The decent work also means that there is freedom from excessive work and the
possibility of retirement. The second dimension concerns basic rights at work, as expressed in the
ILO’s core labour standards, such as freedom of association, freedom from discrimination,
freedom from forced labour and freedom from child labour. The third dimension relates to
security which can be met through (a) formal social insurance systems which provide for
contingencies such as illness, unemployment, old age, (b) informal mechanisms of solidarity and
sharing, (c) investment in workplace safety and (d) labour market institutions and policies which
protects workers against fluctuations in employment – legislation or collective agreements to
discourage lay offs. As estimated by ILO, only 10 per cent the world’s workers have adequate
social protection. The fourth dimension concerns representation and dialogue. The ways in which
people’s voices can be heard are a crucial aspect of decent work. A recent ILO Paper (ILO, 2000),

concludes that freedom of association and collective bargaining are not a barrier to economized
performance. In fact, the right institutional arrangements in labour and product markets provides
for synergy between the social and economic goals underlying decent work.

I. 2. Objectives :

The main objectives of this paper are to analyze the decent work deficits in India’s agricultural
sector and suggest suitable measures to either reduce the deficits or bridge the distance to decent
work. The specific objectives are as follows:

•        to analyze the characteristics of labour market in agriculture and quality of life of
         agricultural workers, including small and marginal farmers, share croppers and landless
         agricultural labourers and plantation workers highlighting the magnitudeof the problem,
         empolyment and wage conditions, poverty, mortality, occupational health and safety,
         gender discrimination in wages and employment, incidence of child and bonded labour,
         their access to legal protection and social security benefits, education, health facilities,
         safe drinking water, roads, transportation, electricity, market etc., in both traditional
         agriculture and plantations.

•        to analyze the role of the Government policies and programmes, including laws
         governing relations and standards in agricultural employment, anti poverty programmes
         and other institutional arragments in creating conditions for decent work in agriculture,
         covering both traditional agriculture as well as plantations .

•         to identify the role of trade unions and other agricultural workers’ organizations
         especially in collective acton initiatives and participaton socio- economic development
         projects which could help promote decent work in agriculture.

•        To examine the impact of relevant ILO conventions in promoting condtions for decent
         work in Indian agriculture.


India has a geographical area of 328.73 million hectares, of which reported area for land use is
306.04 million hectares. The net area cultivated is about 142.60 million hectares, i.e., about 46.6
per cent of the total reported area. Since nearly 50 million hectares of area is sown more than
once, the cropping intensity works out to 135.1. (Govt. of India, Ministry of Agriculture, 2002).
Forests account for about 68.97 million hectares, i.e. 22.5 per cent of the total reported land area.
Also nearly 13.97 million hectares are cultivable wastelands and 9.91 million hectares are fallow
lands. Only about 39 per cent of the total cropped area is irrigated and the remaining area is rain
fed. The available statistics (Govt. of India, 2002) further shows that only about 66 per cent of the
gross cropped area is under food crops and nearly 34 per cent area under non-food crops. Cereals
and pulses account for nearly 52.93 per cent and 12.64 per cent of the total area respectively.
Fruits and vegetables occupy nearly 4.24 per cent of area. Plantation crops account for

insignificant proportion of total area at the macro level, although these are very important crops
for certain regions, namely tea in Assam and West Bengal, coffee in Kerala and Karnataka,
coconut, cashew nut, and rubber in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Of the total coconut area of 1.84
million hectares, Kerala accounts for 51 per cent, followed by Tamil Nadu 17 per cent, Karnataka
18 per cent, Andhra Pradesh 5.4 per cent and others 9.6 per cent. In the case of cashew nut, there
are about 601 thousand hectares of which Kerala accounts for 20 per cent, AP 15 per cent,
Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu 14 per cent each, Orissa 11 per cent and Goa 8 per cent
and others 4 per cent. Tea covers nearly 4.34 lakh hectares of area in the country of which 3.33
lakh hectares are in the States of Assam and West Bengal. Coffee is predominantly grown in the
three sounthern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Of the total coffee area of about 2.41
lakh hectares, Karnataka shares 1.28 lakh hectares, Kerala 66.5 thousand hectares and Tamil Nadu
32.9 thousand hectares. Similarly rubber is the crop of southern states. Of the total rubber area of
5.59 lakh hectares, Kerala shares 4.73 lakh hectares, Karnataka 19.6 thousand hectares and Tamil
Nadu 18.7 thousand hectares. Also the contribution of plantation crops to foreign exchange
earnings is very significant. While tea and coffee earn sizeable foreign exchange, rubber is a
valuable import substitute for rubber based industries.

According to Populations of India, 2001, there are about 402.5 million rural workers of which
127.6 million are cultivators and 107.5 million are agricultural labourers (Table-2.1). In other
words, pure agricultural workers constitute nearly 58.4 per cent of the total rural workers, of
which 31.7 per cent are owner cultivators and 26.7 per cent are mainly agricultural wage earners.
(Agriculture Statistics at a Glance, sourced from Registrar General of India, New Delhi, 2001).
The latest available Agricultural Census data (Govt. of India, Agricultural Census Division,
Ministry of Agriculture, 2002), also reveal that about 78 per cent of operational holdings in the
country are marginal and small, having less than 2 hectares. About 13 per cent holdings have 2 to
4 hectares and 7.1 per cent have 4 to 10 hectares of land. The relatively large holdings above 10
hectares number only about 1.6 per cent of the total operational holdings. However, these 1.6 per
cent of the large holdings occupy about17.3 per cent of the total area, while 78 per cent of
holdings which are less than 2 hectares, operate only about 32.4 per cent of the total area. This
speaks of inequality in the distribution of operational holdings. Also there is inequality of income
between agricultural and non-agricultural workers, which is evident from the fact that percentage
share of agriculure in current total GDP is only 24.2, while the percentage share of agricultural
work force to total work force comes to about 60 per cent.

The Agricultural Census data clearly bear out that Indian agriculture is dominated by small and
marginal farms which are basically subsistence farms. They provide mainly for self-consumption.
However, some of these farms have to sell their produce immediately after harvest at low prices
and buy the same products later at high prices. The average marketed surplus ranged between 38
and 60 for cereal crops, between 47 and 76 for pulse crops, between 66 and 94 for oilseed crops
between 86 and 92 for fruits, about 100 per cent in the case of flowers, nearly 79 per cent for
vegetables, 68 per cent for coconut, 92 per cent for arecanut, 86 per cent for banana, 100 per cent
for cashew and 96 per cent for pepper. (Report of the Sub-Group on Agriculture Commodities for
Whole Sale Price Index, DES, 1997). The data sourced from the Director General of Commercial
Intelligence and Statistics, Ministry of Commerce, Kolkata, as quoted in Agriculture Statistics at a
Glance, Govt. of India, 2002) show that the value of agricultural exports (as of 2001-02) worked
out to Rs.29486 crores. In fact, export earnings from agriculture formed nearly 14.2 per cent of

the total national exports earnings. As a matter of fact, the share of agricultural exports to total
national exports declined in recent years from about 19 to 20 per cent during 1995-96 to 1998-99
to 14 per cent during 2000-01 to 2001-02. In the export basket of 2001-02, the agricultural
commodities which prominently appeared include (i) marine products (Rs.5789.77 crore), oilseeds
(Rs.2251.03 crore), rice basmati (Rs.1839.08 crores), rice non-basmati (Rs.1324.36 crore), wheat
(Rs.1330.21 crore), tea (Rs.1710.81 crores), coffee (Rs.1088.17 crores), spices (Rs.1480.70
crores), cashew (Rs.1776.74 crores), sesame seeds (Rs.562.13 crores), groundnut (Rs.250.40
crores), caster oil (Rs.623.75 crores), sugar (Rs.1728.04 crores), fresh fruits (Rs.405.26 crores),
fresh vegetables (Rs.573.58 crores), processed fruit juices (Rs.510.47 crores), processed
vegetables (Rs.198.23 crores), jute hessian (Rs.186.11 crores), poultry products (Rs.145.90
crores), paper wood products (Rs.1499.82 crores).

At the macro level, India has achieved a measure of food self-sufficiency. Currently there is a
huge public stock of food grains, which have been estimated to be about 40 million tonnes as on
February 28, 2003. This is so despite the fact that the country faced a severe drought in 2002-03.
However, at the micro level (household level), there is still a problem of food insecurity, as about
260 million people are officially reported to be below the poverty line (NSSO, 2001). Despite the
four times increase in the production of food grains from 50.3 million tones in 1950-51 to 211
million tones in 2001-02, the rising demand for food generated by unabated demographic
pressures, expanding agro-based industries and inequitable access to food are causes of concern.
Besides, there are pockets of micro level food deficit areas because of low level of crop yields,
low level of earnings and poor management of food through public distribution system. Also at
the aggregate level, the annual growth rate of food grains production (1.75 per cent) during the
1990’s has been lower than that of population growth (1.93 per cent), which poses a challenge to
the sustainability of existing surplus food production system (Planning Commission, 2000). In
addition, the rice-wheat cropping system in the upper Indo-Gangetic region which generates
macro level food surplus at per cent is reported to be under threat due to over exploitation of
ground water. While the yield levels of rice and wheat in Punjab-Haryana belt are almost
plateuing, there are reports that the water table is falling annually by 30 to 45 cms. in the districts
of Ludhiana, Patiala and Sangrur which constitute about 39 per cent of rice-wheat production in
the State (DRR,1991). It is also felt that continuous rice-wheat rotation coupled with near
omission of legumes in cropping pattern and decline in the use of compost and farm yard manures
lead to decline in soil fertility and factor productivity (Mehta, 1990).

The National Agricultural Policy Resolution of 1996 clearly indicates the need for sustainable
agriculture and food and livelihood security of the poor. There is increased emphasis on
agricultural diversification, organic farming, investment in infrastructure development etc. But in
hardly mention the role of agricultural workers in achieveing this objectives. It needs to be clearly
understood that without active co-operation of agricultural workers and adequate improvement in
the working and living conditions of agricultural workers, no agricultural system can sustain. The
existing pace and patterns of agricultural growth and rural development do not provide adequate
income and employment for food and livelihood security of a vast number of small and marginal
farmers and agricultural labourers. It is also unlikely that agriculture can continue to bear the
burden of ever growing rural labour force, particularly when there is rising pressure of population
on land, while job opportunities in the non-farm sector is growing slowly. Moreover, domestic
market reforms as well as trade liberalization have tended to destabilize the agricultural production

pattern simply because most of the agricultural crops and other enterprises are not cost effective
and internationally competitive. At the same time, low factor productivity, low wage rates and
low level of diversified rural growth tend to reinforce each other in slowing down the growth of
rural income and employment and perpetuate rural poverty. Also in the wake of globalisation,
farmers may tend to reduce their cost of production by all means including reduction of
employment and wage rates which will affect the waged / hired agricultural workers adversely.
This needs necessary awareness on the part of farmers that the source of cost reduction should be
yield improvement through technology up gradation and not the reduction in wage and
employment. Moreover, decent wage rates and increased access to employment will improve the
health and living condition of waged workers which in turn, will help improve land and labour
productivity from which the farmers would benefit. In short, decent conditions of work and
respect for fundamental rights of agricultural workers are essential to sustainable agriculture and
rural development.

Table 2.1 - Population and Agricultural Workers (in millions)

                    Rural                             Agricultural
       Year                       Cultivators                         Workers        Total Rural
                  Population                           Labourers
                    298.6             69.9                27.3          42.8             140.0
                    (82.7)           (49.9)              (19.5)        (30.6)           (100.0)
                    360.3             99.6                31.5          57.6             188.7
                    (82.0)           (52.8)              (16.7)        (30.5)           (100.0)
                    523.9             92.5                55.5         96.6(a)           244.6
                    (76.7)           (37.8)              (22.7)        (39.5)           (100.0)
                    628.7            110.7                74.6        128.8(a)           314.1
                    (74.3)           (35.2)              (23.8)        (41.0)           (100.0)
                    741.7            127.6               107.5          167.4            402.5
                   (72.22)           (31.7)              (26.7)        (41.6)           (100.0)
Source : Registrar General of India, New Delhi


According to 55th Round of National Sample Survey (NSSO, 2001), agricultural labour
households constitute nearly 32.2 per cent of the total rural households. The self-employed in
agriculture account for 32.7 per cent of the total rural households. In fact, the proportion of
agricultural labour households increased from 30.3 per cent in 1993-94 to 32.2 per cent in 1999-
2000, while that of cultivating (self-employed) households declined from 37.8 per cent in 1993-94
to 32.7 per cent in 1999-2000. The proportion of female headed households increased from 9.7
per cent in 1993-94 to 10.4 per cent in 1999-2000. Nearly 62.6 per cent of the rural households
belonged to less than Rs.470 monthly per capita expenditure class. Nearly 4.6 per cent rural
households reported that none in the family was having any work, 27.7 per cent reported that only
one male member was, usually working, while 27.8 households indicated that one male and one
female member were usually employed. Of the female headed households, 22.8 per cent reported
that none of their persons was usually employed and 39.6 per cent mentioned that only one female
member was usually working. The average size of households was 5 and the sex-ratio (female-
male) was 95.9. The NSSO data further reveal that 7.2 per cent of the rural households did not
possess any land and 51 per cent households possessed less than 0.40 hectare. About 19.1 per cent
households possessed between 0.41 and 1.00 hectare and 11.5 per cent between 1.01 and 2.00
hectare. Only 11.2 per cent possessed land above 2 hectares. Thus, by and large Indian farming is
dominated by small and marginal farmers. In fact, the proportion of rural households not
possessing any land or which possessed less than 0.4 hectare land was quite high in the States of
Bihar, Goa, Maharashtra, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu. Also the proportion of agricultural labour
households was high in some of these States. It was 38 per cent in Bihar, 41.7 per cent in
Maharashtra and Karnataka and 45.2 per cent in Tamil Nadu. In fact, due to rising pressure of
population on land and slow growth of employment opportunities outside of agriculture, there is a
rising tendency towards marginalization of land holdings and landlessness. Due to low size of
holdings, low levels of yields and low output prices, most of marginal and small farmers stay
below the povery line. Also the proportion of agricultural labour households was high in some
states. It was 38 per cent in Maharashtra and Kartanaka and 45.2 per cent in Tamil Nadu. Nearly
12.4 per cent of agricultural labour households did not own any land and 68.8 per cent of them had
less than 040 hectare and therefore, there were largerly dependant on hiring out of labour, for
sustance. About 32.1 per cent of all households and 60.9 per cent of female headed households
had no literate member. The incidence of families having no literate member was higher in States
like Bihar (49.2 per cent), Karnataka (35.0 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (37.5 per cent), Orissa (36.8
per cent), Rajasthan (36.0 per cent ) and Uttar Pradesh (34.6 per cent). The usual status, labour
force participation rate (person days in labour force), was 54 per cent for rural male and 30.2 per
cent for rural female. Also about 10 per cent both boy and girl children below 14 years were
reported as usual status workers. The results of various rounds of National Sample Survey further
bear out that the proportion of usually employed persons in agriculture (principal cum subsidiary)
declined only marginally over time from 80.6 per cent in 1977-78 to 71.4 per cent in 1999-2000 in
the case of male and from 88.1 per cent in 1977-78 to 85.4 per cent in 1999-2000 in the case of
female workers. Considering the country as a whole, the rate of usual status unemployment was
1.7 per cent for rural male workers and 1.0 per cent for rural female workers. However, according
to current daily status, about 7.2 per cent of rural male workers and 7.0 per cent of female workers
were unemployed. Also 4.3 per cent of the educated rural male in the age group of 15 to 29 years
and 2.7 per cent educated rural female in the same age group were reported to be unemployed
according to usual status. Besides, about 10.5 per cent of rural male workers and 13.3 per cent
rural female workers were reported as underemployed as they did not have regular employment.
The distribution of working persons days (Appendix-4 of NSSO.4580, 1999-00) was 54.4 per cent
in traditional crop production activities, comprising 5.0 per cent in ploughing, 2.6 per cent in
sowing, 2.7 per cent in transplanting, 6.7 per cent in weeding, 12.1 per cent in harvesting and 25.3
per cent in other crop production activities. It was 0.5 per cent work days in forestry, 1.2 per cent
in plantations, 5.8 per cent in animal husbandry, 0.3 per cent in fisheries and 8.7 per cent in other
non-crop based farm activities.

Another important source of data is Census of India (2001), according to which there are nearly
127 million cultivators, 107.5 million agricultural labourers and 6 million other farm workers
engaged in livestock, forestry and plantations. Of the total agricultural labourers, 38.0 per cent
were female and 61.9 per cent male workers. Also among livestock, forestry and plantation

workers, 78.3 per cent were male workers and 21.7 per cent were female workers. About 99.2 per
cent of agricultural workers were reported to be unorganised and unprotected.

It has been further observed that with growing commercialisation of agriculture, there is a rising
trend towards actualisation of labour. The proportion of casual labour in principal plus subsidiary
status increased from 22 per cent in 1972-73 to 33.8 per cent in 1993-94 in the case of rural male
workers and it increased from 31.4 per cent in 1972-73 to 38.7 per cent in the case of rural female
workers. According to 55th Round of National Sample Survey (NSSO, 2001), about 66.5 per cent
of casual labour is employed in manual work in cultivation and about 11.3 per cent in allied
activities such as forestry, plantation, animal husbandry, fisheries and others. The States which
have experienced appreciable advances in the green revolution also witnessed higher rate of
actualisation of labour. Besides, demographic pressure and declining size of farm contributed to
this trend. Conversely, States like Karnataka and West Bengal which brought about tenancy
reforms in the 1970’s and 1980’s did not witness such a trend (NIRD, 1999). Casual work is the
lowest paying occupation and a large number of these workers and their households are below the
poverty line (Visaria, 1981; Dubey, 1998). This is because there is large unemployment and
under-employment, owing to seasonality of agriculture (NIRD, 1999). The activities are of low
intensity, very often not providing work beyond 150 days a year and the wage paid is rarely
beyond subsistence. According to the latest round of National Sample Survey (NSSO, 2001), the
average wage earnings per day received by casual wage labourers in agriculture was only Rs.41.81
for male workers and Rs.32.73 for female workers in 1999-2000. The child labour in agriculture
earned on average only Rs.27.44 per day.

III. 1. Status of Plantation Workers

The date compiled by Labour Bureau, Govt. of India from annual returns under the Plantation
Labour Act, 1951 show that nearly 10.9 Iakh persons were employed in the plantation seetor,
comprising 10.2 Iakh n Tea, 30680 in coffee, 27032 in rubber, 3463 in cardamom, 2696 in
cinchona and the remaining in oter plantations. Table – 3.3 shows the plantation wise average
daily employment in different states. At all India level, 50 per cent workers in tea and coffee
plantations, 34 per cent workers in rubber, 62 per cent workers in cardamom, 38 per cent workers
in palm oil and 45 per cent in cinchona were women. (Indian Labour Year Book, 2002). In the
plantation sector, nearly 80 per cent are small holders, having less than 20 aces each. Workers in
smaller estaes are by and large unorganized and their levels of employment are relatively lower
then their counterparts n large plantation estates. It has been known through personal interviews of
coffee and rubber planters in Kerala and Karantaka that workers in small plantation estates receive
Rs. 10 to Rs. 20 less per day as compared to those working in large estates. Also they do not
adequately get the benefit of minimum wages, bonus and other facilities such as housing medical
care, maternity benefit etc.

III. 2. Status of Women Workers

The NSS data show that about 10 per cent rural households are women headed. But this hardly
means anything, as women are generally deprived of any rights to ownership of agriculture land.
Where women are part of landed families, they have an associational identity (Uma Pamaswamy,
1997). Traditions and customs have influenced the nature of work that women and men perform in

agriculture. Weeding, transplanting and much of harvest work are done by women, while
ploughing, sowing, irrigating the field and threshing are done largely by men. Women’s work
domain reveals areas of work which are back braking, time consuming, arduous and skills which
have not received recognition. While application of modern technology such as tractors, sprayers,
drip irrigation etc. have taken away much of the hard manual work from men’s domain of work,
there is hardly any change in the arduous nature of women’s work. The paradox is that the entire
gamut of women’s work has received little or no technological up gradation. (Ramaswamy, 1997).
Even in forestry sector, head-loading and transport of forest products for sale is an activity that a
large number women near forest tracks are engaged in. Similarly, technological innovations in
fisheries has a different impact on women. The introduction of automatic net making machines
have threatened the work of women who web nets, modernization in shrimp processing industry in
some areas is reported to have decreased opportunities for women’s employment (Vijayana,
1993). In general, the status of female labour is lower than that of male. They receive relatively
lower wages, even for same or similar nature of work.(Haque, 1998). Even in the organized
plantation sector, such wage differentials existed. The data compiled by Labour Bureau (Govt. of
India) clearly indicate the wages of women workers even in the plantation sector remain lower
than their male counterparts by about Rs. 5 to Rs.7 per day. Even though decent work is important
for both men and women workers, there is a need to address the problem bias against women in
employment and wages much more seriously.

III. 3. Status of Migrant Labour

Agricultural labourers often migrate to new areas due to low wages and inadequate employment
opportunities in their places of residence. Such migration tends to equalize the wage rates
between regions (Acharya and Papanak 1995). In fact, in the green revolution pockets of Punjab
and Haryana, there are a number of such migrant agriculture labourers from Bihar, Eastern Uttar
Pradesh and Orissa. Even in the plantation sector in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there are migrant
labourers from Bihar and Orissa. A recent study (Gill, 1999) shows that nearly 27.73 per cent of
agricultural labourers in Punjab are migrants. According to this study, there is considerable gap
between local and migrant labour in terms of language, culture, life styles and confidence.
Migrant labourers in agriculture generally stay in the accommodation provided by the employer-
farmers in tubewell rooms. Since they work at lower ages for longer hours and are servile, they
are preferred by the employer farmers. Local labourers look at migrants as their rivals and
responsible for their poor terms and conditions of employment. In fact, the migrant workers tend
to depress the wage rates as well as employment opportunities of local workers. Also this divide
between locals and migrants become a big hindrance in the way of organization of the agricultural
labour. Moreover, the migrant labourers operate mostly on seasonal / activity nasis and hence, do
not develop much interest in getting organized.

III. 4. Status of Contract Labour

There is not much literature on the functioning of contract labour system in agriculture. However,
the studies by BinsWanger et al (1984) and Walker and Ryan (1990) provide an insight into the
contractual relations in labour market in some of their adopted villages in the semi-arid tropics of
India. According to them, all villages have two basic labour markets, characterized as casual and
long term. The casual market consists of a daily component where contracts are negotiated for a

day and payment is made each day for an agreed number of hours. In the contract sub-market,
labourers are organized by an intermediary and are remunerated on a piece rate basis for a
specified job. Daily earnings are generally higher from contract work compared to daily rated jobs,
but the former often involve longer hours and or more strenuous work. According to Walker and
Ryan (1990), in all the villages studied, there are groups of men who contract out their labour for
a well digging and deepening and in some villages, women are recruited by women organizations
for time bound tasks related to paddy production. In some villages, a pseudo form of contracting
occurs where the organizer supervises the performance of the gang members who are remunerated
with a daily wage rate and the organizer receives twice the daily wage for his or her supervisory
responsibilities. Employer-farmer prefers contract labour for distinct reasons. First, it helps in
timely completion of various agricultural operations. Second in a job contract, the transaction cost
due to monitoring and supervision of work is minimum as the principal contractor takes the
responsibility of getting the job done. However, contract labourers have no security of
employment and also get less wages per unit of time as compared to worker doing similar work in
the same locality on a daily basis. For these reasons, local workers and trade unions are generally
opposed to contract labour system, while this seems to be a preferred arrangement from the point
of view of employers-farmers. (Haque, 2000). Even in the relatively under-developed region of
Gujarat, large farmers prefer contractual arrangement in labour for harvesting operation of crops
(Shiyani and Vekaria, 2000, IJAE). Also a recent study by Usha Tuteja (IAJE, 2000) shows that
the practice of employing contract labour has adversely affected casual as well as self-employed
women agricultural workers. They get low paid jobs due to higher competition from migrant,
albeit contract male labour. Their number of days in employment is also on the decline.

III. 5. Status of Child Labour/Bonded Labour

There are nearly 10 million child workers in rural India, of which 8 million are employed as main
workers and 2 million are employed as marginal workers. (Census of India). The incidence of
child labour varies between 0.4 per cent in Kerala and 6.2 per cent in Andhra Pradesh. The
proportions of child workers are comparatively higher in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Assam,
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Orissa an Rajasthan. The relatively low proportion of
child labour in Kerala is generally attributed to worker’s education and implementation of land
reforms. Moreover, about 6 per cent of the agricultural labourers are reported to be bonded
labourers, as they take loans from landlords and others and pledge their labour against the payment
of loan. About 87 per cent of the bonded labourers are members of Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribes. The Stats of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan
have relatively higher incidence of bonded labour i.e. 10 to 18 per cent (Govt. of India, NCRL,
1990). In fact, despite legal ban, the systems of child labour and bonded labour, help perpetuate
rural poverty.(Haque, 2000). It hardly requires to be mentioned that child labour is one of the
worst forms of human exploitation. It prevents the children from having access to education and
growing as civilized human beings. It also slows down the pace of economic development of a
country with predominance of uneducated and unskilled labour force which lack potential for
upward mobility. Moreover, about 6 per cent of the agricultural labourers are reported to be
bonded labourers, as the take loans from landlords and others and pledge their labour against the
payment of loan. About 87 per cent of the bonded labourers are members of Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribes. The State of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajashtan

have relatively higher incidence of bonded labour i.e. 10 to 18 per cent ( Govt.of India, NCRL,

Table 3.1 - Basic Statistics relating to Agricultural Labour Market (as of 2000-01)

1. Agricultural labour households as % of total rural households*                      32.2 percent
2. Total Number of Agricultural labourers **                                          107.5 million
3. Total Number of self-employed cultivators**                                          127 million
4. Number of Farm workers engaged in livestock, forestry & plantations*                   6 million
5. Proportion of female agricultural labourers**                                       38.9 percent
6. Proportion of casual labour in Principal plus Subsidiary Staus**                      41 percent
7. Number of Child Workers in Rural India*                                               10 million
8. Rate of Usual Status unemployment**
                          a. Male workers:                                              1.7 percent
                          b. Female workers:                                            1.0 percent
9. Proportion of working person days**
                          a. traditional crops:                                        54.4 percent
                          b. Plantation :                                              1.2 percent
                          c. animal husbandry :                                        5.8 percent
Source : * NSSO, 1999-00
         ** Census of India, 2001

Table 3.2 - Current Daily Status of Unemployment Rates for each state and U.T (as of 1999-00)

                            Unemployment            Rate (Rural)
         State/UT                                                         Total Persons
                                 Male                 Female
   Andhra Pradesh                  81                    81                     81
   Ar. Pradesh                     13                     1                      9
   Assam                           64                   125                     74
   Bihar                          72                     62                     70
   Goa                            92                    261                    133
   Gujarat                         51                    42                     48
   Haryana                         53                    18                     47
   H.P.                           34                      9                     24
   J&K                             53                    30                     49
   Karnataka                       44                    40                     43
   Kerala                         200                   261                    217
   Madhya Pradesh                  40                    35                     38
   Maharashtra                     63                    69                     65
   Manipur                        24                     26                    25
   Meghalaya                       6                      5                      6
   Mizoram                         19                     5                     13
   Nagaland                        28                    31                     29
   Orissa                          76                    56                     71
   Punjab                         42                     17                    37
   Rajasthan                       33                    19                     28
   Sikkim                         33                     25                    31
   Tamil Nadu                     143                   123                    135
   Tripura                         17                    57                     22
   Uttar Pradesh                  40                     21                     36
   West Bengal                    152                   251                    170
   A & N Islands                  35                     81                     44
   Chandigarh                     19                     35                    19
   D & N Haveli                   12                      0                      9
   Daman & Diu                     20                     8                     18
   Delhi                           39                   246                     48
   Lakshadweep                    130                   530                    236
   Pondicherry                    239                   318                    262
   All India                      72                     70                    71
Source : National Sample Survey 2001

Table 3.3 - Plantations – Average Daily Employment in Different States / Union Territories

 Month &                                       Average Daily Employment
Year when
                 States      Plantation                                               Total
  Labour                                     Men          Women       Children
Rules come
 into force
January 1956        Assam            Tea       280160        296200         94522        670882
Sep. 1955             H.P.           Tea          160           193             5           358
Oct. 1956        Karnataka           Tea         1948          2151                        4100
                                   Coffee        8376         10613            60         19049
                                  Rubber         1242          1211                        2453
                                 Cardam             8             7                          15
                                    Total      111574         13983            60         25617
April 1956          Kerala           Tea        28153         38972                       67125
                                   Coffee        1803          1903                        3706
                                  Rubber        13150          7704                       20854
                                 Cardam           805          1389                        2196
                                   Cocoa           25            26                          51
                                Oil Palm          312           309                         621
                                    Total       44248         50303                       94551
January 1956      Tamil N.           Tea        27290         40186                       67476
                                   Coffee        3627          4298                        7925
                                  Rubber         1272          1034                        2306
                               Cardamom           692           782                        1474
                                Cinchona          646           762                        1407
                                   Others         239           135                         374
                                    Total       33766         47196                       80962
Sep. 1955         Tripura®           Tea         1008          1143           196          2347
                                  Rubber          955           330             3          1288
                                    Total        1963          1473           199          3635
March 1957            U.P.           Tea          110           234                         344
Nov. 1957        W. Bengal           Tea       130042         99234          8123        210489
                                Cinchona          734           551             4          1289
                                    Total      103776         99785          8217        211778
Sep. 1957                         Rubber            110          21                          131
                 & Nicobar
Grand Total                          Tea       441871        478314        102936       1023121
                                  Coffee        13806         16814                       30680
                                  Rubber        16729         10300                       27032
                                Cardomo          1505          2178                        3683
                                   Cocoa           25            26                          51
                                Oil Palm          312           309                         621
                                Cinchona         1380          1312                        2696
                                  Others          239           135                         374
Grand Total
                                               475867        509388        103003       1088258
All Plantation
Source : Labour Bureau Government of India

The Govt. of India have passed labour laws from time to time which recognize the rights of
workers to form associations or unions and also to promote and protect the social and economic
interests of workers. These laws are quite in conformity with various ILO Conventions and
Recommendations such as (i) Freedom of Association and Protection of the Rights to organize
Convention, 1948 (No.87); (ii) Rights to organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949
(No.98); (iii) Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No.100); (iv) Discrimination (Employment
and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No.111); (v) Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29); (vi)
Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No.105); (vii) Minimum Age Convention, 1973
(No.138); (viii) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No.182); (ix) the Safety and
Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No.184) and Recommendation; (x) Plantations
Convention, 1958 (No.110) Recommendation No.110 (1958); (xi) Rural Workers’ Organizations
Convention, 1975 (No.141) and Recommendation No. 149; (xii) The Promotion of Co-operatives
Recommendation, 2002 (No.193); (xiii) Labour Inspection (Agricultural) Convention, 1969 (No.
129) and (xiv) Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery (Agriculture) Convention, 1951 (No.99). While
the Govt. of India have ratified ILO Convention 141 relating to Rural Workers’ Organizations
(1975), the spirits of other above mentioned Conventions find specific place in some existing
laws. A critical evaluation of the existing laws in the light of relevant ILO Conventions and
Recommendations would be in order here.

IV. 1. Trade Union Act, 1926

In the case of wage earners, the law specifically provides that any seven or more members may
form a Union and apply for registration under the Trade Union Act, 1926. Every application for
registration for the trade union shall have to be made to the registrar and shall be accompanied by
the copy of rules of the trade union and the statement of the following particulars, namely (1) the
names, occupation and address of the members making the application; (2) the name of the trade
union and the address of Head Office and (3) the titles, names, and address, occupation of the
officers of the trade union.

The Registrar, on being satisfied that the Trade Union has complied with all the requirements of
this Act in regard to registration, shall register the Trade Union by entering in a register to be
maintained in such form as may be prescribed, the particulars relating to the Trade Union
contained in the statement accompanying the application for registration. If all the terms of the
Act are complied with, it is obligatory upon the Registrar to register a union and he has no
discretion in the matter. The Registrar, on registering a Trade Union under section 8, shall issue a
certificate of registration in the prescribed form which shall be conclusive evidence that the Trade
Union has been duly registered under this Act. Any person aggrieved by any refusal of Registrar
to register a Trade Union may appeal to High Court or any other court, as appointed by
Government. The appellate court may dismiss the appeal or pass an order directing the registrar to
register the Union.

The law clearly provides that no suit or other legal proceeding shall be maintainable in any Civil
Court against any registered Trade Union or any office-bearer or member thereof in respect of any
act done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to which a member of the Trade Union

is a party on the ground only that such act induces some other person to break a contract of
employment of some other person or with the right of some other person to dispose of his capital
or of his labour as he wills.

The members of a trade union enjoy the protection of law against undue harassment. The law also
is clear that the workers have a right to get organized for a purpose which is lawful. Also a
registered Trade Union shall not be liable in any suit or other legal proceeding in any Civil Court
in respect of any act done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute by an agent of the
Trade Union if it is proved that such person acted without the knowledge of, or contrary to express
instructions given by, the executive of the Trade Union (Malik, 1985).

Thus, the Trade Union Act, 1926 contains clauses that respect the basic principles and spirits of
ILO Convention Nos.87 and 98 relating to Freedom of Association and Protection of the Rights to
organize and Rights to organize and Collective Bargaining. In reality however, the Trade Union
Act 1926 covers inquisition of workers where employer-employee relationship exists. While
wage earners under most circumstances can form an organization and get registered under the
Trade Union Act, the self employed workers including tenants, small and marginal farmers and
petty artisans may not be able to form a union because of the absence of employer and employee
relationship. Even the waged workers in agriculture often fail to get organized under a trade union
banner due to the lack of established and regular employer-employee relationship. Nevertheless,
some Central Trade Unions have achieved noticeable success in registering membership of
agricultural workers. (discussed later in this Paper).

IV. 2. The Societies Registration Act, 1860

In view of the fact that small and marginal farmers and tenants find it difficult to get organized
under the Trade Union Act, 1926, they can form an organization under the Societies Registration
Act, 1860 to promote the common interest through participation in various socio-economic
projects, floated by Government and Non-Government agencies.A society registered under this
Act acquires the legal status. This Act is applicable to both issue based NGOSs and co-operative

Only the NGOs and societies formed for the purpose of peoples’ welfare and development may be
registered under the Act.

The two main documents which are required to be filled under section 2 of the said Societies
Registration Act 1860 for registration of a society are : (1) MEMORANDUM of ASSOCIATION

IV. 3. Memorandum of Association

Memorandum of the foundation of the Societies defines the permitted range of its enterprises. The
purpose of the aims and objects for which Society is formed have to be incorporated in the

The desirous persons or the persons subscribing to the Memorandum should not be in any case
less than seven. If it proposes to have ALL INDIA Character to the Society and the word All
India character or Akhil Bhartiya formed part of the name of society, there must be a minimum of
eight different persons from eight different states of the Union of India. The main purpose of the
Societies Registration Act has been to promote co-operative societies and non-government
organizations that could help promote workers welfare and therefore, this is in conformity with
ILO Recommendation No.193 relating to the Promotion of Co-operatives. Indeed some NGO’S
and co-operatives registered under the Socientes Registration Act, have performed exceedingly
well in promoting workders welfare such as CDF. DDS, WWF, RALE GAON SIDHI, etc., The
farmers Amul Dairy Co-operative is a registered society, the success story of which is widely

IV. 4. Evalution

Agricultural workers in India are largely unorganized. According to the Ministry of Labour’s
verified statistics (1996), hardly 1.8 million rural workers, out of 240 million were organized by
major trade unions. Besides, Bhartiya Khet Majdoor Union, All India Agricultural Workers Union
and All India Kishan Sabha reportedly organized about 5.5 million agricultural workers. Also,
3.09 million workers were organized by various co-operative societies. Thus, altogether, only 10.4
million rural workers, i,e., about 4.2 percent organized. Even if we include the membership of
independent trade unions and NGOs, hardly 5 per cent of the rural workers seemed to have been
organized. The roles of various types of workers’ organizations may be explained as follows :

IV. 4. (i). Trade unions

The major trade unions like INTUC, BMS, HMS, UTUC(LS), UTUC, NLO, TUCC, NFITU,
AITUC, CITU together had membership of about 12.33 million workers in the country, but their
efforts were largely concentrated in the urban areas. The latest claimed membership of the
national trade unions for the year 1997-98 were 25.26 million of which, 3.8 million consisted of
agricultural and rural workers. Even we include the latest efforts of AIAWU, BKMU, AIKS and
various NGOs, less than 5 per cent of the total rural workforce in the country seem to be

IV. 4. (i). a. Role of Major Trade Unions in Organizing the Rural Workers

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 show the total and rural membership of major trade unions respectively in the
country. It may be seen from Table 4.1 that Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Indian Trade Union
Congress (INTUC), Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and All
India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) are the major national level trade unions with largest
membership strength of total workers. Table 4.2 shows that while BMS, INTUC and HMS have
also significant strength in rural areas, other trade unions like All India Agricultural Workers
Union affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union
(BKMU) and All India Kishan Sabha (AIKS) affiliated to the Communist Party of India have
relatively larger membership strength. Besides United Trade Union Centre, Lenin Sarani
(UTUC(LS), United Trade Union Center (UTUC), Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC),
National Federation of Indian Trade Union (NFITU) have sizeable strength of rural membership.

In fact AIAWU, BKMU and AIKS together have membership of about 6.5 million agricultural
workers. Table 4.3 further shows that there are about 236 rural workers unions affiliated to central
trade unions in the country. Table 4.4 reveals that of the latest claimed rural membership, Indian
National Trade Union Congress has sizeable influence in the states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh,
Punjab, Kerala, Assam, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. The Hind Mazdoor Sabha has its main influence
in the rural areas of Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh . The Bhartiya
Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has significant rural membership strength In Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. In Assam its area of influence is mainly in the
plantation sector . The All India Kisan Sabha has its membership in all the states of the country,
but its areas of significant influence are West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Assam, Tripura,
Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union’s areas of
influence are spread all over the country, but their main strengths are in Kerala, Punjab, Bihar,
West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It may be seen
from the table that AIAWU’s areas of influence are Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu,
Haryana, Tripura, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The Ministry of Labour (Govt. of India, 2002) also
gives the occupation wise distribution of agricultural workers unions and membership. Traditional
crop production sector had about 42 unions, having membership of 621 thousand, floriculture and
horticulture had 18 unions with 8.9 thousand members, plantations had 144 unions having 609
thousand members, livestock rearing had 18 unions with 2.4 thousand members, agricultural
services had 60 unions with 45.5 thousand members, forestry and logging had 15 unions having
136 thousand membership and fishing had 23 unions with 6.6 thousand membership.

IV. 4. (i). b. Women Membership of Trade Unions

Most of the national level trade unions could not give information on what percentages of their
total members in agriculture are women. However, Table 5.10 shows that of INTUC’s rural
membership hardly 10 per cent are women workers. Both HMS and All India Agricultural
Workers Unions reported that about 50 per cent of their members in rural areas are women. At the
national executive level also, they have representation of women members.

IV. 4. (i). c. Trade Union in the Plantation Sector

The plantation workers in India are generally organized along trade union lines. As of 1998, there
were 144 unions which submitted returns to Government in the plantation sector of which
111were in tea plantation, 4in coffee, 4 in rubber, 12 in coconut and arecanut, 1in fruit growing
and 12 others . Of the total registered membership of 609 thousand, about 584 thousand were in
the tea plantation sector, follwed by 6.3 thousand in coconut, 3.8 thousand in rubber and 3.1
thousand in coffee and others. Table 4.6 gives the regional distribution of plantation workers’
membership of various trade unions organizations. It could be seen from the table that INTUC has
about 173 thousand members in the plantation sector of which 54 per cent are located in Assam,
17 per cent in Kerala, 14 per cent in Tamil Nadu and about 3 per cent in Karnataka. The HMS has
about 21 thousand membership in the plantation sector, of which 69 per cent are in Kerala, 17 per
cent in West Bengal and 14 per cent in Tamil Nadu. The CITU has about 38 thousand
membership in the plantation sector of which 43 per cent are in Kerala, 39 per cent in West
Bengal, 11 per cent in Assam and about 2 per cent each in Tripura, MP and Tamil Nadu. The
BMS has about one lakh members in the plantation sector of which about 90 per cent are in

Assam, 8 per cent in Kerala, and the remaining in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal,
Tripura, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. Other major trade unions like NFITU (21 thousand),
UTUC (LS) 12 thousand, UTUC 11 thousand and AITUC 17 thousand have marked their
significant presence in the plantation sector, although their figures of regional distribution of
membership were not available.

IV. 4. (ii). Independent Local Level Trade Unions, not Affiliated to National Centres

In addition to the above national level trade unions, there are some independent regional/local
level trade unions namely Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA), National Fishermen’s
Forum (NFF), Sarva Shramik Sangh (SSS), Khad Kshetra Mazdoor Sanghatan (KKMS), Andhra
Pradesh Agricultural Labour Union (APALU), Forest and Agricultural Workers Union and even
National Union of working women, based in Chennai belong to this category of Unions. Besides,
National Centre for Labour (NCL) has been formed as a federation of unorganized workers.

However, these independent unions are highly localized even though they have made impact in
their areas of operation. Nevertheless, they need to forge an alliance with National level trade
unions to make greater impact. The success story of dairy co-operatives in Gujarat is well

The above mentioned co-operative societies of various categories of agricultural workers are
registered under the Co-operative Societies Act, 1860. These are formed to promote and protect
the group and occupation specific interests of the members. These are supposed to be jointly
owned and managed by the workers. They are autonomous and workers can become members
paying subscription. At all levels, workers participate in decision making.

IV. 4. (iii). Worker’s Co-operatives

In addition to the membership of trade unions about 3.1 million agricultural workers are organized
along the co-operative line (RBI, 1998). There are about 7.7 thousand farmers societies with 354
thousand membership, 6.9 thousand fisheries societies having 764 thousand membership, 3.5
thousand forest labourers societies with 425 thousand members and 4.7 thousand women’s co-
operative societies, having memberships of 5.3 lakhs membership (Table 4.7). It may be seen
from Table 5.14 that the state of Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of farmers co-operative
societies (2345), having 1.5 lakh membership. Other states where farmers co-operative societies
are strong include Assam, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. The Fisheries societies
have sizeable membership in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal,
Karnataka, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in that order. The forest Labourer’s societies have
significant number of members in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Bihar. The
women’s co-operative societies are relatively strong in Maharashtra.

IV. 4. (iv). Non-Government Voluntary Organizations

Besides, there are nearly 3052 registered non-government Organizations which have made efforts
to promote and participate in socio-economic projects for the rural workers. Quite a few of them
like UNIFRONT, RWO, WWF etc. perform the dual role of both unions and co-operatives. Table

4.8 gives the state-wise number of such NGOs in the country. These are registered under the Co-
operative Societies Act, 1860. They implement development schemes for the rural workers which
are either sponsored by government and international agencies or self initiated.

IV. 4. (v). Self-Help Groups

In recent years both government and non-government agencies have formed self-help groups of
women and poor workers at the local level. The government has set up Rashtriya Mahila Kosh
(RMK) for enabling groups of poor and asset less women in the informal sector to access credit
through the medium of NGO’s. The RMK operates through 170 NGOs and has reached about 2
lakh women. Like Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, the recovery rate of RMK is as high as 96 per
cent (Govt. of India, 1997). Besides, prominent NGO’s like Co-operative Development
Foundation, based in Andhra Pradesh, MYRADA, based in Karnataka, World Women’s Forum,
based in Chennai, SEWA based in Gujarat have successfully organized self-help groups of women
and the poor workers. Also, National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development and National
Institute of Rural Development have recently ventured into forming self-help groups for
promotion of various group based development activities which could help the poor workers to
access credit, markets their output and earn higher income. However, the SHG has yet to gather
momentum of the shape of a poor people’s movement in the villages, although there are concerns
for it at all levels.

IV. 5. Summing up

This issue of industrial relations in agriculture is quite complex. Since the agricultural workers are
not a homogeneous group and there is no direct employer-employee relationship on regular basis,
especially in traditional crop production sector, the workers are largely unorganized. Generally
speaking, they do not have any bargaining power. In relatively higher productivity regions of
Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, wages are often higher than the minimum wages
fixed because of high productivity of land and labour. But in other backward regions, this rule
does not apply. The self-employed agricultural workers also suffer from numerous problems due
to low price, low access to technology, credit market etc. But due to lack of organization, their
voices are not heard by the Government. However, in a state like Kerala, agricultural labourers are
mostly organized along the trade union line. In fact, Kerala Agricultural Workers Act, 1974 which
provides for a number of security and welfare measures for the workers such as provident fund,
gratuity, pension, overtime payment etc. is the result of trade union movement. Also the
agricultural labourers in Kerala have greater security of employment as compared to those in other
parts of the country. Generally a worker who worked on somebody’s field last year, has also the
de facto right of employment in the current year, unless the worker himself decides so otherwise.
Besides, credit goes to the unionization of agricultural labourers that the average daily wages rates
of agricultural labourers in Kerala are comparatively much higher than those prevailing in other

According to the Labour Bureau (Govt. of India, 2002), in the traditional agricultural sector, there
were nearly 29 industrial disputes in the year 1999, involving 382 thousand workers, which led to
a loss of 3.7 million mandays. Similarly, in the plantation sector, about 3.6 million mandays were
lost due to industrial disputes in 1999. also the plantation sector workers, particularly in the

Estates having 25 acres or more land area, are largely organized and due to their collective
bargaining power, they get relatively higher wages, and other entitlements under the Plantation
Labour Act. But the large estates employ hardly 20 to 25 percent of the total employment. Thus,
even in the plantation sector where 75 to 80 percent workers work on small plots and estates are
deprived of many benefits, adequate medical care and housing facilities. Even though landowners
try to provide accommodation and facilities of drinking water, their standard is relatively poor,
Also their wage rates are comparatively lower.

1V. 5. (i). Main Constraints to Organizationm of Agricultural Workers

•       Various categories of agricultural workers who constitute the majority of rural workforce
        in India seem to form conflicting interest groups for mobvious reasons. For instance the
        owner-cultivators may be interested in organizing themselves for higher prices of their
        farm products, while marginal farmers, sharecropping tenants and landless workers may
        like to organize for higher wages and lower prices of foodgrains, vegetables and other
        agricultural commodities. Marginal and small farmers, landless labourers and poor
        cultivating tenants can make organized efforts to unite themselves for their common
        economic prosperity through implementation of anti-poverty and socio-economic
        schemes, through rich farmers and landlords often keep them divided and deprived of the
        benefits of various schemes in order to maintain their traditional stronghold on society.

•       The working class in rural areas ism very often divided along caste and community lines,
        which stands in the way of their being organized. Local vested interests as well as
        political parties further try to keep them divided and unorganized by spreading among
        them, caste, communal and regional biases and a sense of mistrust against each other.
        Unless the rural workers themselves realize the need for unity and solidarity to increase
        their bargaining power and socio-economic prosperity, it will be diffucult to organize
        them. However, appropriate training of youth and women cadres could fascilitate the

•       Due to acute poverty and the opppresivre agrarian structure, marginal farmers and
        landless agricultural workers are heavily dependent on the big landowners and on
        moneylenders for wage employment, credit and leasing-in land that they find it difficult
        to organize themselves along class lines.

•       In addition, generally there is no direct employer-employee relationship in agriculture in
        the sense that the same workers could be working with different owner-cultivator for
        different operations. Further, there is a growing practice of using contract labour for
        certain operations in the peak seasons. Contractors hire workers from ourside, and often
        rotate them from one place toanother as well as from one farmer to another, thereby
        reducing the possibility of them getting organized.

•       Illiteracy and acute poverty also stand in the way of their being organized.

IV. 5. (ii). Attitude of Government and Major Trade Unions

So far, the far the government seems to have played either a negative or an indifferent role in
organizing agricultural and other rural workers. Many State governments which, seem to represent
mainly the wishes of vested interests in rural areas, consider any unionzation of agricultural
workers as unproductive and unwelcome. Although the government has enacted laws for
promoting trade union movement and recruited honorary rural organizers *(HRO), the
implementation of law and the scheme of HRO remain far from satisfactory. The Telangana
experience in Andhra Pradesh may be sited as an illustration. The Andhra Pradesh Rytu Coolie
Sangham, which is a union of agricultural workers (Reddy, 1990) since 1977-78, played a
significant role in the effective implementation of land reforms, minimum wages and even direct
anti- poverty programmes like IRDP and the Jawahar Rojgar Yojana. But the police, in collusion
with with the local vested interested and political leaders, started harassing the union members
through arrest and torture. The organization was banned by the Andhra Pradesh government,
under, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. This is against the spirit of ILO Convention No.
141. Similarly, the Ibrahimpatnam Rythu Collie Sanghams, a registered agricultural labour union
in Ranga Reddy district since 1984 which actively participated in the implementation of land
reforms, minumum wages and other programmes suffered, as the chief organizer of the union was
arrested along with her lawyer husband, while the administration remained a passive spactator.
The arrest was in violation of Article 3 of the ILO Convention No. 141, which says thsat ‘rural
workers’ organizations shall be free from interference and coercion.

The promotion of socio-economic activities and participation of rural workers’ organizations in
the implementation of government –sponsored or ILO-sponsered or any other UN-sponsered rural
development projects may not necessarily invite harassement from vested interests and the police.
But the government does not encourage involvement of trade unions in the implementation of
direct anti-poverty rural development programmes, partly because it feels that this might disturb
the social order in rural India in the long run and partly due to the fear that trade unions are
organized along party lines and therefore, their involvement would be mainly for meeting party
ends. Whatever the case, government attitude is not in conformity with the guiding spirit of ILO
Convention No. 141 and Recommendation No. 149.

The major trade unions have not shown much interest in organizing rural workers on the plea that
this is a difficult task, requiring large funds and enormous numbers of committed organizers. It
seems that they are also interested latgely in taking political advantage of rural workers’
organizations, and not in the real welfare of their members. Indeed, some of their local units have
shown an eargeness to promote socio-economic development schemes, provided the government
and other autonomous organizations give the necessary financial and infrastructural support.

1V. 5. (iii). Inadequate Involvement of Women and Youth

Women and young workers are good organizers but the traditional socio-economic and cultural
environment of village society is often hostile. This does not encourage them, particularly women,
to come to the forefront. Similarly, the rural educated youth do not like to stay in the village and
go to the urban areas at the first available opportunity. Nevertheless, HMS and a few other
independent organizations have successfully organized and trained a cadre of women workers to

unretake social work. This angurs well for the future. Efforts need to be made on a wider scale by
all leading workers’ organizations.

Table 4.1 - Change in the membership of Central Trade Union Organizations during 1982-97
      Union          Verified Membership 1980           1989
 Intuc                          3.51                     2.69                  6.73
 Bms                            1.88                     3.12                  6.06
 Hms                            1.84                     1.48                  3.67
 Utuc(Ls)                       1.23                     0.84                  0.84
 Utuc                           0.61                     0.58                  0.58
 Nlo                            0.41                     0.14                  0.14
 Tucc                           0.27                     0.23                  0.23
 Nfitu                          0.53                     0.53                  0.53
 Aituc                          1.06                     0.94                  3.62
 Citu                           1.03                     1.78                  2.86
 Total                         12.39                    12.33                  25.26
Source: Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India and Respective Trade Unions

Table 4.2 - Latest Membership of Major Trade Unions in the Agriculture and
           Rural Sector
      Union             Membership            Reporting Year             Verified/Claimed
                                    119073                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                   1097280                  1997                     CLAIMED
                                    347768                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                    900276                  1997                     CLAIMED
                                    158668                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                    682000                  1993                     CLAIMED
     Utuc(Ls)                       420920                  1989                     VERIFIED
       Utuc                         310298                  1989                     VERIFIED
       Nlo                            2464                  1989                     VERIFIED
      Tucc                          199347                  1989                     VERIFIED
      Nfitu                         166135                  1989                     VERIFIED
      Aituc                          17542                  1989                     VERIFIED
       Citu                          30049                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                   2012000                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                   2445700                  1999                     CLAIMED
                                   2000000                  1989                     VERIFIED
                                   2590000                  1999                     CLAIMED
      Aiks                     14594686                    1999                    CLAIMED
Source: Ministry of Labour, Govt of India and Respective Trade Unions.
Table 4.3 - Number of Rural Workers Unions claimed by Central Trade
           Union Organizations (1997-98)

           Union                                    Number of Unions
           Intuc                                          88
            Bms                                           47
            Hms                                           19
         Utuc(Ls)                                          8
           Utuc                                           22
            Nlo                                            4
           Tucc                                            3
           Nfitu                                           8
           Aituc                                          20
            Citu                                          17
Source: Respective Trade Unions.

Table 4.4 - Regional Distribution of Latest Claimed Rural Membership of Various National Trade
Union Centres (1997-98)

                                                                  (Membership 000’ Number)
                                                         All India
        States          INTUC      HMS        BMS                        BKMU    Affiliafed
                                                        Kisan Sabha
Bihar                     12        178       301           184            335       80
Assam                     30          -         91          145             30        -
Gujarat                     -         4          -           10              -        -
Maharashtra                10       100         76          122             40       35
Madhya Pradesh            16          -        54            50            220       2
Karnataka                   -         3          5           71             43       12
Kerala                    36        169         15          1045           500      1496
Himachal Pradesh            2         -       NEG            10              -        -
Haryana                    6          -         1            16             40      115
Punjab                    46         6         43           120            350       77
Orissa                    20         29       NEG            30             50        -
Jammu & Kashmir            1          -          1            7              -        -
Rajasthan                  1        100        91            51             50        -
Uttar Pradesh             68         46       130           115            130       71
West Bengal               608         -          3         11011           315      200
Tamil Nadu                 20        16          1          401            245      200
Andhra Pradesh              -         -        190          100            225      340
Tripura                    1          -         2           206              -       97
Source : Respective Trade Union Headquaters, New Delhi. Data relates to 1997-98

Table 4.5 - Women Membership of various Trade Union Organizations in Rural Areas

       Name of the         % of women member              Number of women at the Central
      Organization                                               Executive Body
 All India Agricultural
                                  50                         1 (at the national council)
 Workers Union
 HMS                              50                                     2
 INTUC                            10                                     2
Source: Respective Trade Unions

Table 4.6 - Regional Distribution of Plantation Worker’s membership of various
            Trade Union Organizations (as of 1989 and reported by the
            Ministry of Labour in December, 1996)

                                          Share of        Membershp
         Unions States                                                           Plantation
                                          States %          (000’)
                All India                100.00
                Assam                     54.4
 INTUC                                                       173                    Tea
                Kerala                    17.0
                Karnataka                  2.9
                Tamil Nadu                13.7
                All India                100.00
 HMS            Kerala                    69.0                21                    Tea
                Tamil Nadu                13.9
                West Bengal               17.1
                                                              36                   Tea
                All India                100.00
                                                              2                   Rubber
                West Bengal                  39.0
 CITU           Kerala                       42.7
                Assam                        10.8
                Tripura                      2.3
                M.P.                         2.0
                Tamil Nadu                    2.0
                Others                       3.2
 UTUC (LS)                                                    12                    Tea
 UTUC                                                         11                    Tea
 NFITU                                                        21                    Tea
 AITUC                                                                           Tea Rubber
 BMS                                         100
Source: Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India

Table 4.7 - Number and Membership of Rural Labour Co-operatives by
            State (Membership in ‘000)

                                      Fisheries     Labour Contract                      Forest lablourerer
                Farmer’s Socieites                                     Women Societies
                                      Societies        societies                             societies
                                     No. Member                         No. Member
      State     No. Member Ship                    No. Member Ship                       No. Member Ship
                                         Ship                               Ship
Andhra             2345       152    2436    192     2500       120        0       0      110        13
Assam              437        33     476      82         279     7        21       3       16         1
Bihar              307        14     498      31     1936       48       103       3      585        24
Goa                 4         0.3     15      2          0.12   0.9        1      0.2      1         0.2
Gujarat            512        21     350      41     2184       158      327      39      152        129
Haryana             97         2      39     0.7     1393       87         9      0.7      0          0
Pradesh             5        0.01     25      3          50      2        85       4       0          0
J&K                 0          0      0       0           0      0         0       0       0          0
Karnataka          305        10     261      62         216     21       380     82       43         5
Kerala              81        26      0       0          160     21       132     37       6         0.4
Pradesh            198         5     986      37         255    18        32       2      2041       160
Maharashtra        324        12     1673    182     4434       225      926      202     380        77
Manipur            197        10      96      6          427    18         -       -       45         3
Meghalaya           48         2      51      2          24     0.7        -       -       1
Nagaland           112         4      36     0.1          -      -         -       -       -          -
Orissa              26         2     507      53         184    20         8       1       -          -
Punjab             680         5      4      001         848    93       2213     138      -          -
Rajasthan          209         4      79      3          997     34        0       0       81         7
Sikkim              0          0      -       -          14     0.3        0       0       -          -
Tamilnadu           31         6     638     150         214    48         1       0       3         0.9
Tripura             3         0.5    127      14         36      1         1       4       5         0.4
Uttar Pradesh      502        34     110      5          501     30       126      4       24         2
West Bengal        211        11     848      71     1550       61       174       8       7         0.7
Delhi               0          0      0       0           -      -         0       0       0          0
All India          7724       354    6933    764     18431      1021     4653     530     3515       425
Source: RBI, Statistical Statements relating to Cooperative Movement in India, Mumbai

Table 4.8 - State-wise number of Voluntary Organizations (NGOs ) as on 1988-89

                                                             NGO operating exclusively in
              State                 Total No. of NGOs
                                                                    rural areas
Andhra Pradesh                            313                           184
Bihar                                     308                            112
Kerala                                    203                            140
Karnataka                                 193                            80
Madhya Pradesh                            305                            80
Maharashtra                               200                            77
Gujarat                                   350                            111
Rajasthan                                 155                            45
West Bengal                               309                            82
Tamil Nadu                                203                            93
Assam                                      46
Arunachal Pradesh                          6
Manipur                                    16
Meghalaya                                  12
Mizoram                                    4
Nagaland                                   9
Sikkim                                     6
Tripura                                    17
Punjab                                     31
Haryana                                    52
Himachal Pradesh                           73
Chandigarh                                 19
Delhi                                     222                            85
All India                                 3052                          1210
Source : Development Alternative, New Delhi. 1998-00


The Government of India has passed a numbeer of laws in order to promote labour standards in
agriculture. These laws are also in conformity with various relevant ILO Conventions such as (i)
Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery (Agricu;lture) Convention, 1969 (129), (ii) Equal
Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100), (iii) Discrimination (Employment and Occupation)
Convention, 1958 (No.111), (iv) Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), (v) Abolition of
Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (105), (vi) Mimimum Age Convention, 1973 (No.138), (vii)
Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No.182), (viii) The Safety and Health in
Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No.184), and (ix) Plantations Convention, 1958 (No.110). The
following paragraphs describe briefly the nature of land adopted by the Government, which have
implications for labour standards in agriculture.

V. 1. The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

This law provides for the fixation of minimum rates of wages of labourers including agricultural
labourers and is thus in conformity with ILO Convention No. 99 relating to Minimum Wage
Fixing Machinery (Agriculture). The power to fix the minimum wages has been given to the state
government. The law provides for revising the minimum rates of wages from time to time. The
wages under the Act may be for time work, known as a ‘minimum time rate’ or for piece work
known as a ‘minimum piece rate’.

There are two methods for fixing or revising the minimum rates. One is by constituting
committees and is by notification in the official gazette. This law also provides for fixing hours
for a normal working day in regard to any scheduled employment in respect of which minimum
rates of wages under this Act have been fixed. For the overtime work the wages to be paid are at
the rate of twice for non-agriculture work and one and a half time for agriculture work.

The law provides for appointment of inspectors by the Government for proper implementation of
this Act. These inspectors are empowered by the Act to make inspections whether minimum
wages are actually paid.

Exaction of labour and services against payment of less than the minimum wages amounts to
forced labour and violates Article 23 of the Constitution.

A claim for non payment of minimum wages may be made before an appropriate authority under
the Act. In the Central sphere, Regional Labour Commissioners are the authority under this Act
and in the state sphere the Govt. normally appoints the Deputy Labour Commissioners as
authority under this Act. The claim under the Act may be made either by the employee himself, or
any legal practioner or any official of a registered Trade Union or any Inspector. Any application
for claim should normally be made within six months from the date which minimum wages
become payable. In case any employer contravenes any of the provisions under this Act or any
rule or order made under this Act, if no other penalty is provided for such contravention, he/she is
liable to be punished with a fine to the extent of Rs.500.

V.1. (i). Local Amendment by Government of Rajasthan

However, the State Level amendment made by Government of Rajasthan (Section 2 of Raj Act 11
of 1976), provides that the persons who cannot work for more than half a day are not entitled to
receive what other working a full day get. Sub-normal workers, are not entitled to full minimum
wages without performance of a normal day’s work.

V. 1. (ii). Enforcement of Minimum Wages

A comparison of actual wage rates with Minimum wage rates of agricultural labourers as shown in
Appendix-II and Appendix III would reveal that in several states including Andhra Pradesh,
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura, market rage rates are lower than the minimum wages fixed,
while in States like Bihar, Maharasthra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura, even though the market
wages are quite close or slightly higher than the minimum wages, the levels of minimum wages
are themselves low enough to keep the labourers perpetually poor. The minimum wages have not
been regularly revised keeping in view the changes in consumer price index. Conversely, in a state
like Kerala, where agricultural labourers are largely organized, the actual wage rates are much
higher than the minimum wages fixed. The actual wage rate was as high as Rs. 152 per day, while
the minimum wages were unrealistically fixed at Rs. 30 for light work and Rs. 40.20 for hard
work. However, in the plantation sector the average ruling wage rate was Rs. 80.71 per day in
rubber estate of Kerala. In the case of coffee, it was Rs.77.12 in Kerala, Rs. 66.50 in Andhra
Pradesh , Rs. 60.80 in Karnataka and Rs. 51.92 in Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, it was lower than
the minimum wage fixed at Rs. 54 per day. In the tea estates, it was Rs. 49.47 for tea picking
(Govt. of India, Labour Bureau, 2002). Thus trade unions as well as Government have definite
responsibility to ensure that not only need, based minimum wages are fixed and annually revised,
but also effectively implemented. However, unless workers are organized and trade unions take
major initiative in this regard fixation of minimum wages will only be a paper exercise.

V.2. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923

Under this Act, the employers are under obligation to pay compensation to workers for injury
caused in the course of employment, resulting in death or total / partial disablement. The Act
extends to all workers in the whole of India, employed in any capacity in schedule II of the Act
which includes factories, plantations, mechanically propelled vehicle, construction work and
certain hazardous occupations. The compensation up to Rs. 80,000 in the case of death and Rs.
90,000 in the case of permanent total disablement is provided.

In reality however, the unorganized agricultural labourers fail to benefit from such Legislation,
although in the large plantation estates, union in most cases help in the affected families to receive
compensation under the Act.

V. 3. The Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 1952

The Act provides for institution of compulsory provident funds for employees of an establishment
employing 20 or more persons. However, the benefit of this Act does not reach the agricultural
workers-where employer-employee relationship is not generally establishment. The State

Governments of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Kartanaka have a separate scheme for the
plantation workers.

V. 4. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; As Amended in 1970 and 1988

The Maternity Benefit Act is intended to promote the welfare of the working women. This Act
applies to every establishment employing women and provides for the maternity leave and
payment of certain monetary benefits (which is right now Rs. 250/- in case of non pre-natal care
provided by the employer) for women workers during the period when they are out of employment
on account of their pregnancy or any illness etc., arising out of pregnancy. However, the amount
of benefit is too meagre. This Act, applies to every establishment whether a factory, mine, a
plantation or shops and establishments. The State Government are responsible for implementation
of the Act in agriculture and plantation. However, while the plantation worders are covered by this
Act which meets some obligation under ILO Convention No. 110 for Plantation Workers, other
women agricultural workers remain outside the purview of this Act. Even in the plantation sector,
only the women workers in large estates which fall under the preview of plantation Labour Act,
receive maternity benefits.

•       The maximum period for which women get maternity benefit is twelve weeks of which
        six weeks must be taken prior to the date of the delivery and the remaining six weeks
        immediately following the date of delivery.
•       In order to be entitled to maternity leave, a woman must actually worked at least for a
        period of 160 days in the calendar year before expected date of delivery. This has now
        been revised to 80 days.
•       No pregnant woman when she makes a request to the employer one month before the six
        weeks prior to expected date of delivery should be compelled or allowed to do any hard
        work is likely to interfere with her pregnancy or the normal development of fetus or is
        likely to cause her miscarriage or otherwise affects her health.
•       After the delivery a woman worker is to be given two nursing breaks of prescribed
        duration (15 minutes) in addition to her regular rest intervals for nursing until the child
        attains the age of fifteen months.
•       Besides, an employer cannot reduce the remuneration on account of light work assigned
        to her for the breaks taken to nurse the child. Further she cannot be discharged or
        dismissed on grounds of absence arising out pregnancy, miscarriage, deliver or pre-
        mature birth. Nor can her service conditions be altered to her disadvantage during this

If any employer contravenes the provision of this Act or the rules made there under, he shall be
punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend
to five hundred rupees, or with both; and where the contravention is of any provision regarding
maternity benefit or regarding payment of any other amount and such maternity benefit or amount
has not already been recovered, the Court shall, in addition recover such maternity benefit or
amount as if it were a fine and pay the same to the person entitled thereto. The punitive actions
however, are so insufficient that many employers may continue to violate the law.

V. 5. Enforcement

The data compiled by the Labour Bureau for the year 1999 show that about 41461 women workers
in the plantation sector claimed maternity benefits, of which 29263 claims were accepted for either
full or part payment. The total amount of maternity benefit paid worked out to Rs.4.82 crores. In
addition, in about 3938 cases, special bonus was paid.

V. 6. Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

Under this Act, all employers are required to pay equal remuneration to men and women workers
for same work or work of a similar nature. This Act respects the ILO Convention No. 100 relating
to Equal Remuneration.

The main provisions are as follows : (a) No employer shall pay to any worker, employed by him in
establishment or employment, remuneration, whether payable in cash or in kind, at rates less
favourable than those at which remuneration is paid by him to the workers of the opposite sex in
such establishment or employment for performing the same work or work of a similar nature.

Also on and from the commencement of this Act, no employer shall, while making recruitment for
the same work or work of a similar nature, make any discrimination against women except where
the employment of women in such work is prohibited or restricted by or under any law for the
time being in force.

If after commencement of this Act, any employer-

•        make any recruitment in contravention of the provisions of this Act as, or
•        makes any payment of remuneration at unequal rates to men and women workers, for the
         same work or work of a similar , or
•        makes any discrimination between men and women workers in contravention of the
         provisions of this Act, or
•        omits or fail to carry out any direction made by the appropriate Government under sub-
         section (5) of section 6

he shall be punishable with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees.

V. 7. Enforcement

In reality however, hardly there is any enforcement of this law in the agricultural sector. The latest
available data for the year 1999-2000 show that All India average daily wage rates for the male
agricultural labourers for weeding operation was Rs. 54.23, while it was Rs.45.27 for female
labourers and Rs. 28.03 for child labourers. Even in tea picking where labourers are unionized,
men labourers received Rs. 49.47 per day, but the average wage of female labourers was only
Rs.39.55 per day.

V. 8. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The main provisions of this Act which aims at abolition of the system of bonded labour are as

•       On the commencement of this Act, the bonded labour system shall stand abolished and
        every bonded labourer shall, on such commencement, stand freed and discharged from
        any obligation to render any bonded labour.
•       No person shall –
        •     make any advance under, or in pursuance of, the bonded labour system, or
        •     compel any person to render any bonded labour or other form of forced labour
•       Any custom or tradition or any contract, agreement or other instrument (whether entered
        into or executed before or after the commencement of this Act), by virtue of which any
        person, or any member of the family or dependant of each person, is required to do any
        work or render any services as bonded labourer, shall be void and inoperative.
•        Every obligation of a bonded labourer to repay any bonded debt as remains unsatisfied
        immediately before such part of any bonded debt as remains unsatisfied immediately
        before such commencement, shall, be deemed to have been extinguished.
•       All property vested in a bonded labourer which was immediately before the
        commencement of this Act under any mortgage, charge, lien or other encumbrances in
        connection with any bonded debt shall, in so far as it is relatable to the bonded debt, stand
        freed and discharged from such mortgage, charge lien or other encumbrances, and where
        any such property was, immediately before the commencement of this Act, in the
        possession of the mortgagee or the holder of the charge, lien or encumbrance, such
        property shall (except where it was subject to any charge), on such commencement, be
        restored to the possession of the bonded labourer.
•       No person who has been freed and discharged under this Act from any obligation to
        render any bonded labour, shall be evicted from any home-stead or other residential
        premises which he was occupying immediately before the commencement of this Act as
        part of the consideration for the bonded labour.
•       If, any such person is evicted by the creditor from any home-stead or other residential
        premises, referred to in sub-section (1), the Execute Magistrate in charge of the Sub-
        Division within which some home-stead or residential premises in situated shall, as early
        as practicable, restore the bonded labourer to the possession of such home-stead or other
        residential premises.
•       No creditor shall accept any payment against any bonded debt which has been
        extinguished or deemed to have been extinguished or fully satisfied by virtue of the
        provisions of this Act

V. 9. Penalty for Enforcement of bonded labour

Whoever, after the commencement of this Act, compels any person to render any bonded labour
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and also with
fine may extend to two thousand rupees. Out of the fine, if recovered, payment shall be made to
the bounded labourer at the rate of rupees five for each day for which the bonded labour was
extracted from him. Since the fine for employment of bonded labour and the compensation to
bonded labour are negligible, there is hardly any deterrence to the practice of bonded labour.
Further, the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933 as amended up to-date, provides that
whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an agreement has been made of pledge the
labour of a child, or permits such child to be employed in any premises or placed under his
control, shall be punished with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees.

Besides, the Government of India enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act,
1986 also announced the National Child Labour Policy in 1987, which provides that a Child
Labour Policy in 1987, which provides that a Child Labour Advisory Committee will be set up to
advise the Government on additions of occupations and processes that are hazardous to the health
of the child workers and needs to be prohibited.

Thus, the existing laws on bonded labour are in conformity with relevant ILO Conventions such as
(i) Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (ii) Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957, (iii)
Minimum, Age Convention, 1973 and (iv) Worst Form of Child Labour Convention, 1999.

However, due to poor implementation of these Acts, the incidence of child labour and bonded
labour is quite high in several regions.

V. 10. The Plantations Labour Act, 1951, as Amended in 1981

This is an Act to provide for the welfare of labour, and to regulate the conditions of work, in
plantations. According to this Act, in every plantation, effective arrangements shall be made by
the employers to provide and maintain at convenient places in the plantation a sufficient supply of
wholesome drinking water all workers, medical facilities, canteen, crèches, recreation facilities,
educational facilities, housing facilities and annual leave with wages and maternity benefits. The
Plantations Labour Act, 1951 incorporates provisions that meet the obligations of ILO Convention
No. 110 on plantation workers, even though the Govt. of India has not so far ratified this
Convention. However, as per the available information (Bureau of Labour, 2002), under the
Plantations Labour Act, the Indian Tea Planters Association, Jalpaiguri provides a wide variety of
facilities to the workers. The workers are provided free protective clothing e.g. umbrella, apron,
woolen Jersey/blankets once in two years, as also the facilities of library, hospitals, sports and
games. The Estates affiliated to the United Planters Association of South India (UPASI) covering
Kartanaka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu provide free medical aid to plantation workers through Garden
hospitals, group hospitals and dispensaries. Also free education facilities up to high school are
provided to the children of plantation workers. Besides, for pursuing technical and higher studies,
Tea, Coffee and Rubber Boards provide stipends towards, tuition fees, hostel charges etc. In most
schools, there is a provision of free mid-day meal for the children of those employees drawing a
monthly salary of Rs. 750. Creches are also provided by every plantation, employing 50, or more

women workers. Arrangements are also made for providing adequate supply of drinking water.
Protective clothes and some other non-statutory benefits such as annual leave, home travel
concessions, free collection of fire wood, vegetable plot for kitchen garden, wages for mothers
attending sick children, ex-gratia payment in cases of non-occupational chronic diseases, free
liquid tea/coffee at work spots, etc. Moreover, it is mandatory for every employer to provide and
maintain necessary housing accommodation for every worker and his family residing in the
plantations. According to the rules under section 15 and 16 of the Act, State Government have
fixed the standards and specifications of accommodation, which varies from a plinth area of 260 to
280 sq. ft. The enforcement of the Act is the responsibility of respective State Govt. As per the
latest available information in 1999, the plantation inspectors inspected about 3138 cases of
violations and in 176 cases violators were convicted and a fine of Rs.96,550 realized (Appendix
VII). However, only 20 to 25 per cent of the plantation workers who are employed in large estates
above 25 acres and who come under the purview of the Plantation Labour Act get such benefit.
About 750 to 80 per sent holdings in tea, coffee and rubber are small and marginal where workers
have access to free housing facility, free electricity and drinking water facilities and sometimes
even medical care, they do not generally receive many of the benefits indicated above. Particularly
women workers do not have access to maternity benefit in smaller estates based on personal
interviews. Also the wage rates of these workers are less by Rs. 10 to 20 as compared to those
working in larger estates where the workers are organized. Besides, they do not get subsidized
rations unlike the organized plantation workers.

V. 11. Dangerous Machines (Regulations) Act, 1983

This Act aims at improving the occupational safely and health situation of agricultural workers.
The law requires the State Governments to frame rules, appoint controller and other functionaries
to regulate the uses of power tillers, thresher etc. which could cause serious injury. However,
implementation of law has been very poor so far. A number of states have yet to notify rules and
appoint a functionary to implement the law.

V. 12. Insecticides Act, 1968

All pesticides are toxic in nature and required to be used judiciously and with care. The Act
provides for registration of all import, manufacture and uses of pesticides. So far, 182 pesticides
have been granted regular registration for use in the country and 25 pesticides have been banned.
The uses of pesticides formulation, namely nicotine sulphate and capaphol 80% DS have been
banned for use, but their manufacture is allowed to export. However, a number of pesticide
poisoning cases are reported from different parts of the country. (Table 5.1). It has been observed
that farmers and agricultural labourers often do not know the hazards involved in use and spraying
of pesticides. Due to lack of training, farmers and farm labourers apply chemical fertilizers and
pesticides often without a protective cover. As a result, there are report of skin diseases, allergies,
lung diseases and parasitic disease affecting them. Besides, trade unions as well as Government
need to organize large scale training programmes to educate the farmers regarding the proper
handling the pesticides and chemicals. Moreover, mass awareness campaign along with promotion
of bio-pesticides would be necessary to reduce health hazards due to the use of pesticides.

V. 13. Kerala Agricultural Workers’ Act, 1974

The state of Kerala is the only state in the country, which passed a specific, albeit comprehensive
law for the agricultural workers, in 1974. The Act provides for a number of security and welfare
measures for the workers, namely, provident fund, gratuity, pension and overtime payment etc.
since the agricultural workers in the state are largely unionized., it has also been possible to
implement the law, in its right spirit. In fact, the All India Agricultural Workers Bill which is
pending in the Parliament for the past several years, has been modeled on the pattern of Kerala
Agricultural Workers’ Act. 1974. The Central Trade Unions are pressurizing for its early
enactment. This will give the unions a legal basis for organizing the agricultural workers on
certain key issues.

V. 14. Unorganized Sector Workers’ Bill, 2003

Following the recommendation of the Second Labour Commission which was set up in October,
1999, the Central Government has drafted a bill on unorganized sector workers this year which
would provide for social security schemes and welfare for the agricultural and other unorganized
sector workers including (i) medical care, (ii) sickness benefit, (iii) employment injury benefit, (iv)
invalidity benefit, (v) old age benefit including pension. The Draft Bill also provides for the
establishment of separate welfare funds at the Central and State levels to be monitored by a board
of trustees. The Draft Bill provides for registration of all workers in the notified professions of the
unorganized sector including self-employed workers and receipt of a Social Security Number and
ID Card.

V. 15. Summing Up

Thus, the existing labour laws, the benefits of which are available to the agriculture sector
workers, meet the obligations under various relevant ILO Conventions and Recommendations.
Also, there are no legal restrictions / constraints on the formation and functioning of agricultural
workers’ organizations. In each state, there is an administrative structure to implement the labour
laws, which is generally headed by Secretary or Labour Commissioner, assisted by Deputy and
Asstt. Labour Commissioner. It has been observed that in the case of both Trade Union and co-
operatives, local level organizations can group themselves in federation or can link themselves
with national level organizations. There are adequate guarantees in law against an Act of
interference or coercion or anti-organization discrimination.

Nevertheless, the existing administrative structure and mechanism seems to be highly inadequate
for enforcement of laws relating to agricultural workers and agricultural workers’ organizations.
There is a general impression all over the country that labour commissioners as well as labour
inspectors are indifferent towards implementation of these labour laws. During personal
discussion with them, it was also revealed that majority of them do not favour the unionization of
agricultural workers, in the apprehension that it would affect land productivity and also create
more social tensions. It is often suggested that agricultural and rural workers constitute the bulk of
the total work force in the country and therefore there should be a separate position of Rural
Labour Commissioners in each state with adequate number of labour inspectors. Such a separate
structure will be able to monitor the implementation of rural labour laws more effectively.

Table 5.1 - Number of Deaths due to Pesticide Poisoning (as of 2001-02)

            State                 No. of Cases Reported                    No. of Deaths
AP                                          120                                  52
Assan                                         2                                   1
Haryana                                      141                                 21
Kerala                                      5465                               2635
Maharashtra                                 1248                                268
Pondicherry                                 520                                  54
Punjab                                      286                                 130
Rajasthan                                   418                                 341
Tamil Nadu                                   128                                 48
West Bengal                                   1                                   1
Source : Bureau of Labour – Gevernment of India.


For the past three decades, the Government of India have launched several anti-poverty
programmes and socio-economic projects for the welfare of agricultural and other rural workers.
Effective implementation of these anti-poverty programmes would require the involvement of
Trade Unions and other agricultural workers’ organizations. In fact, they can act as watch dog and
minimize leakages in the implementation of various anti-poverty and development programmes.
Here a brief discussion of various development schemes available for the agricultural workers in
India would be in order.(Government of India, 2001).

VI. 1. Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana

Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana was launched by the Government on April 9, 1999 by
restructuring the erstwhile major wage employment programme called Jawahar Rojgar Yojana. It
was the single largest wage employment programme implemented in all the villages of the country
through Panchayati Raj Institutions. The objectives of JGSY are (a) creation of demand driven
infrastructure in village level for enabling the rural poor to have more opportunity for sustained
employment and (b) generation of wage employment for the unemployed poor. Also 22.5 per cent
of JGSY funds are marked for individual beneficiaries belonging to schedule caste and schedule
tribe. During 2000-01, Rs.2217.69 crore was spent for implementation of this scheme. Earlier
under Jawahar Rojgar Yojana, about Rs.2000 crore in 1997-98 and Rs.2078 crore in 1998-99 were
allocated. But only 70 per cent of allocated funds were available to the Panchayats. As per the
new guideline for Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana 100 per cent funds allocated would be made
available to the Panchayats. Although the implementation of scheme is through Gram Panchayat,
Trade Union and other Agricultural Workers’ Organizations can join the Gram Sabha and assist in
proper implementation of the scheme in the interest of the poor workers.

Under Jawahar Yojgar Yojana 1998-99 nearly 397 million mandays of employment were
generated. Under Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana also 2.68 million mandays in 2000-01 and 97.5
million mandays upto November 2001 were generated. The wages under Jawahar Gram Samridhi
Yojana ware either the minimum wages notified by the states or higher wages fixed by states
through the programme prescribed by the state governments.

The programme is implemented by the Village Panchayats with the approval of Gram Sabha. For
assistance, the agriculture and other workers can contact village Pradhan, Sarpanch, Panchayat
Members, Local Development Officers, District Collector or District Rural Development

VI. 2. Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY)

A new self-employment Programme, called Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) has
been launched w.e.f April 1, 1999 by replacing the earlier self employment and allied programme
such as IRDP, TRYSEM, DWCRA, SITRA, GKY and MWS. It is an innovative and carefully
thought-out Yojana. It takes into account all the strengths and weaknesses of the earlier self-
employment programmes.

The main objectives of Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) are to bring every assisted
family above the poverty line within three years through

•        establishing a large number of micro-enterprises in the rural areas and
•        building upon the potential of the poor.

It is assumed that the rural poor in India have competencies and given the right support can be
successful producers of valuable goods/services. The selection of activities is made in such a way
that each selected Swarojgari gets an opportunity to expand its asset and skill base in three years,
and at least in the third year, the net income should be more than Rs.2000/- per month. Subject to
availability of funds, it is proposed to cover 30% of the rural poor in each block in the next five

This scheme is meant for the rural families/individual falling below poverty line. Out of the total
Swarojgaris selected under the scheme, 50% will be SC/STs, 40% Women and 3% disabled.
There are two types of Swarojgaris

•        Individual Swarojgaris
•        Self help groups (consisting of 10-20 persons in each group)

In either case, the Swarojgaris are identified from the list of BPL (below poverty line) households
identified through BPL census. The list of selected persons for assistance under SGSY is
approved by Gram Sabha. During 2000-01, an amount of Rs.1116 crore was spent under this
scheme. About 10.4 lakh persons were assisted under this programme of which 44 per cent were
Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes and 41 per cent were women.

The SGSY is an integrated programme of micro-enterprises covering all aspects of self-
employment, viz. organization of the rural poor into Self Help Groups (SHGs) and their capacity
building, planning of activity clusters, infrastructure build-up, technology, credit and marketing.

Credit is the critical component in SGSY, subsidy being only as an enabling element. The credit
requirement of the Swarojgaris is assessed and they are encouraged to increase their credit intake
over the years. Subsidy under Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana would be uniform at 30% of
the project cost subject to a ceiling of Rs.7,500/- (for SC/STs it would be 50% and Rs.10,000
respectively). For SHGs, subsidy would be 50% of the project cost subject to a ceiling of Rs.1.25
lakh. There is no limit on the subsidy for irrigation projects.

SGSY lays emphasis on activity clusters, 4 to 5 key activities are identified for each block, based
on the resources, occupational skills of the people and availability of markets. Selection of key
activities is made with the approval of the Panchayat Samities at the Block level and the District
Rural Development Agency (DRDA)/Zila Parisad (ZZP) at the District level.

The SGSY takes into account the role of every participant – the Panchayat, Gram Sabha, Banks,
Financial Institutions, PRIs, NGOs as well as technical institution in the district. Care has been
taken to involve them right from the conceptualization stage, so that they work as a team for the
success of the programme.

VI. 2. Indira Awas Yojana

Housing is one of the basic human needs. Owning the house provides significant economic
security and dignity in society.

Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) was launched in 1985-86 by the Government of India to provide
dwelling units free of cost to the bonded labourers, SC/ST families who are victims of atrocities,
households headed by widows/unmarried women, and families who are below the poverty line.
From 1995-96, the benefits of the scheme have been extended to families of servicemen of the
armed and paramilitary forces killed in action. Three per cent of the houses are reserved for the
below-poverty-line disabled persons living in rural areas. All persons who have an annual income
less than Rs.11,000 are eligible. This is a specific scheme earmarked for disadvantaged categories
of the rural poor. The allotment of house is made in the name of the female member of
beneficiary household. Alternatively, it may be in the joint name of both the husband and wife.
The beneficiaries are involved from the very beginning in construction work and have to make
their own arrangements for construction to suit their requirements. As far as possible houses are
built in cluster so as to facilitate provision of common facilities. The permissible expenditure per
house is Rs.20,000 in plain areas and Rs.22,000 in hilly or difficult areas.

Since its inception, about 78.7 lakh houses have been constructed under Indira Awas Yojana
(IAY) with an expenditure of Rs.13376.94 crores (till December, 2001).

VI. 4. Samagra Awas Yojana

This scheme was launched in 1999 with a view to ensuring integrated provision of shelter,
sanitation and drinking water. It has been decided to take up the scheme in one block of each of
25 selected districts in 24 states. A special Central assistance of Rs. 25 lakhs is provided to each

VI. 5. Employment Assurance Scheme

To give a fillip to rural employment generation, a new programme, called Employment Assurance
Scheme (EAS) was launched in selected blocks of the country on 2nd October, 1993.

The main objective is to provide 100 days of unskilled manual work up to two members of a
family in the age group of 18 to 60 years normally residing in villages in the lean agricultural
season, or on demand, within the blocks covered under EAS. Works under EAS are taken up in
those pockets of the district/panchayat samities where there is a need for creating additional wage
employment. Seventy per cent of the fund allocated for each district, are administrated by the
Panchayat Samities and thirty per cent of the funds are reserved at the district level for utilization
in areas suffering from endemic labour distress. During the last three years about 400 million
mandays of employment per year was generated under this scheme. During the Ninth Plan
Rs.8690 crore was allocated under the scheme.

Employment Assurance Scheme is open to all the rural poor residing in the areas covered under
the scheme who are seeking work but cannot find it either on farm or non-farm activities. The
worker who is seeking work has to get himself registered with the village panchayat and will be
issued a family card.

VI. 5. (i). Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana

Recognizing the role of rural roads in economic growth and poverty alleviation, Government has
launched a 100 per cent Centrally Sponsored Programme, called the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak
Yojana. The Programme aims at providing connectivity to all unconnected villages with a
population of more than 500 persons through good all weather roads by the end of the 10th Plan
period, at an estimated cost of Rs.60,000 crore.

VI. 5. (ii). Drought Prone Area Programme

The Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP) was started in 1973, with the following objectives :

•        to mitigate the adverse effects of drought on production of crops, livestock and
         conservation of natural resources;
•        encourage restoration of ecological balance; and
•        to improve the economic and social conditions of poor and disadvantaged sections of the
         rural community.

At present, the DPAP is under implementation in 971 blocks of 183 districts in 16 states. The
village community, including self-help/user groups, undertake area development by planning and
implementation of projects on Watershed basis through Watershed Associations and Watershed
Committees constituted from among themselves. NGOs can approach DRDA for appointment as
Project Implementation Agencies. Up to March 2001, about 11,738 watershed projects, covering
an area of 58.69 lakh hectares were sanctioned, out of which 31,46 projects have been completed.

VI. 5. (iii). Desert Development Programme

The Desert Development Programme (DDP) was started in the year 1977-78. It covers 227 blocks
in 36 districts with an area of 4,57,432 in seven states. These states are Andhra Pradesh,
Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Rajasthan.

The main objectives are to mitigate the adverse effects of drought on production of crops and
livestock and productivity of natural resources; control desertification; encourage restoration of
ecological balance and provide self-employment to the assetless persons through development of
all categories of land belonging to Gram Panchayat, Government and individuals falling within the
limits of the project area. Under DDP, 5353 watershed development projects were under
implementation up to March, 2001.

VI. 5. (iv). Land reform

In the wake of Independence, land reform was considered as one of key instruments of economic
growth and poverty alleviation. However, there has been less emphasis on redistributive land
reform in recent years. Upto September 2001, about 5.4 million acres of ceiling surplus land were
redistributed among nearly 5.6 million landless and semi-landless people. Besides, a state like
West Bengal had a measure of success in tenancy reform. The state launched ‘Operation Barga’
in 1979 and recorded about 14 lakh share croppers and gave them heritable right. The improved
security of tenure helped in productivity growth and poverty alleviation.(Haque, 2000)

VI. 5. (v). Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme

The Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme and Prime Minister’s Gramadoya Yojana –
Rural Drinking Water, launched in 2000-01 aim at resolving drinking water crisis in rural areas.
So far, 88 per cent of rural habitants have been fully covered with drinking water facilities and
10.71 per cent are partially covered. Also 200 districts have been chosen for total sanitation
campaign. About 9.52 million latrines were constructed during 1992—93 to 2001-02.

VI. 5. (vi). National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP)

The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) was launched on 15 August, 1995. This is
100 per cent central funding to the states/UTs and provides benefits under three components viz.,
(a) National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS); (b) National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS);
and (C) National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS).

VI. 5. (vii). National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) provides assistance at the rate of Rs.75
per month to persons who are aged 65 years or above and are destitute.

VI. 5. (viii). National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) A lumpsum benefit of Rs.5,000/- in case of
natural death and Rs.10,000 is provided in case of death due to accident to households below the
poverty line (on the death of the primary breadwinner). Persons in the age group of 18-64 years
are covered under the scheme.

VI. 5. (ix). National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) provides lumpsum assistance to pregnant
women up to the first two live births and above belonging to households below the poverty line.
The amount of benefit is up to Rs.300 disbursed in one instalment 8-12 weeks prior to the

Apart from the above, there are other programs and schemes, which are meant for the
development of rural areas in general, and specific groups of rural workers. These programmes
and schemes are implemented by the different Ministries/Department through NGOs.

VI. 5. (x). Insurance Cover for Rural Women

On May 1, 2000, Bilaspur Division of Madhya Pradesh government became the first region in the
country to insure all rural women. The scheme provides for insurance coverage ranging from
Rs.12,500 to Rs.25,000 in case of injury due to accident and in the event of unnatural death, the
heir would get Rs.25,000/-.

VI. 6. Krishi Shramik Samajik Suraksha Yojana – 2001

On July 1, 2001, the Govt. of India launched a Social Security Scheme for agricultural workers
which provides that if a worker dies before 60, the family would receive a lump sum payment of
Rs.20,000 on natural death and Rs.50,000 in case of death due to accident and Rs.50,000 in case
of permanent disability. Currently it is implemented in 50 selected districts.

VI. 6. (i). Food for Work Programme

The Food for Work Programme is a general scheme which can form a part of any wage
employment scheme of the Government, being implemented in districts affected by natural
calamities. The Government of India makes available appropriate quantity of grains to each of
affected states. This is meant for providing wage employment and help in drought proofing
activities. During 2001-02, about 4988 mandays of employment were generated under this scheme
and about 2 million tones of food grains were distributed.

VI. 7. Annapurna

The Annapurna Scheme was launched in April 2000, with the aim of providing food security to all
senior citizens above 65 years, who are not covered under the National Old Age Pension Scheme.
Food grains are distributed to eligible persons at highly subsidized rates, i.e. at Rs.4.90 per kg. Up
to September, 2001, about 4.76 lakh beneficiaries were reported.

VI. 7. (i). Minimum Support Price Policy

In order to protect the interests of farmers from fluctuating prices, the Govt. of India on the
recommendation of the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices, fixes the minimum support
prices for as many as 24 agricultural commodities. In case the market price fall below the
minimum support prices, the Government Agencies would intervene and make purchases till
market price stabilize. In fact, for commodities like paddy and wheat, government makes pre-
emptive purchases, irrespective of the market prices and thus tries to ensure minimum guaranteed
prices and protect the income of farmers. Unfortunately, this policy is effective only in some
regions like Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and to some extent Uttar Pradesh. In other regions
where the market price often fall much the below the minimum support prices, the policy does not
work mainly because of lack of adequate infrastructure and initiative of the local Government.
Particularly small and marginal farmers who make distress sales immediately after harvest have
not benefited much from the MSP system in these regions.

VI. 7. (ii). Public Distribution of Foodgrains

It has been an establishment policy of the Government to maintain bufferstock of foodgrains and
supply grains to people at subsidized price; i.e., at a price which is much below the economic cost.
At present, about 11 million tones of rice and wheat are distributed through fair price / rations
shops. There is a dual pricing system – one for people above the poverty line and another for
people below poverty line. However, the current APL prices are often higher than market prices
and therefore, there is no off-take of APL quota. But people below the poverty line still find it
attractive, even though the PDS infrastructure and consequently supplies in the traditionally
poverty stricken region of Bihar, Jharkhand, M.P., Chattisgarh and Orissa are found to be weak
and inadequate. (CACP, 2002-03)

VI. 7. (iii). Summing Up

It becomes clear from the foregoing discussion that Government have launched a number of anti-
poverty and development programmes effective implementation of which could have improved
the socio-economic condition of agricultural workers. Unfortunately, according to Govt.’s own
admission (Planning Commission, 2000), the implementation of all these schemes and
programmes have been far from satisfactory from the point of view of making their impact on
poverty reduction.

Table 6.1 - Central Government expenditure (Plan and Non-Plan) on social sectors and Rural

                                                   1992-93        2000-01-       2002-03
                                                   Actual          Actual         (BE)
1. Social Services                                  6397           26550          33547
Education, Sports & Youth Affairs                   1878            7081           9948
Health & Family welfare                             1722            5291          7038
Water supply, sanitation                             788            4932          5391
Housing and urban dev.
Information & broadcasting                           371            1317          1438
Welfare of SC/ST and other                           488            969           1385
Backward Classes
Labour, employment and labour welfare                347             894           900
Other social services                                803            4124          2768
North-Eastern areas                                                 1327          4679
2. Rural Development                                3211            4449          6430
3. Basic Minimum services (BMS)                       -              321           365
Including slum development
4. Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana (PMGY)             -             2350          2800
Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY)              -             2500          2500
5. Social Services, Rural Dev.                      9608            36170         45642
BMS and PMGY (1+2+3+4)
6. Total Central Government                         1740            15.50         16.74
Expenditure as percentage of DGP
At current market prices
7. Social Services Rural Dev.                        7.8             11.1          11.1
BMS & PMGY as a percentage of
Total Expenditure
8. Social services, Rural dev.                       1.4             1.7           1.9
BMS & PMGY as a percentage of
GDP at mkt. Price
Source : Budget documents.


Workers can achieve certain things collectively which they cannot achieve with individual efforts.
As a result of collective action initiatives by trade unions and other rural workers organizations,
most StateGovernments have undertaken some welfare measures for improving the socio-
economic conditions of agricultural workers. For example, in 1999, as many as 17 community
centers were functioning in Assam to provide welfare facilities like cutting, tailoring, embroidery
and knitting. A sum of Rs.3 lakh was sanctioned for (i) expansion of craft training in community
centre for plantation labour (ii) construction of staff quarters, (iii) electrfication of quarters, and
(iv) vocational training centre. Also the Government of Assam has appointed honorary organizers
to create general awareness for prevention in the use of drugs and spread of AIDS in the
plantations. The Government of Bihar and west Bengal have launched a Group Insurance Scheme
for agricultural workers. In Karnataka, there are 36 Labour Welfare Centres functioning in the
state which provide free facilities like sports, games material, reading rooms and library etc. and
also training classes for dependants of workers. During 2000, the Karnataka Welfare Board
provided a budget of Rs.15 lakh to grant scholarship to students. The Government of Karnataka
has also set up a social security authority to provide social security benefits to the unorganized
workers. In Kerala, Agricultural Workers’ Pension Scheme, 1982, Kerala Tree Climbers Welfare
Scheme, 1979 and Group Insurance Scheme for landless agricultural workers have been reported
to be working well (Govt. of India, Labour Bureau, 2002). Also the Kerala Plantation Labour
Material Advisory Board is currently engaged in discussing the issue of occupational diseases for
their prevention and control. In fact, the State of Kerala has amended the Plantation Labour Act
(Section 18A), which says that if any plantation, facilities are not provided or maintained by the
employer, as required, the Chief Inspector may cause to be provided or maintained therein such
facilities and recover the cost thereof from the defaulting employer. In Tamil Nadu, there are 52
labour welfare centers that provide various facilities to workers. Each centre has also a tailoring
unit and crèche. Each centre imparts training to about 50 women trainees. A stipend of Rs.80 per
month is paid to each trainee. In thwe crèche, children who are below five years are supplied with
uniform, milk and nutrious food. In Tripura, there are four labour welfare centers that impart
vocational training to the tea garden workers. Twenty-one balwadis (child welfare centers) and
two recreational centers are also functioning in the state, which provide recreational opportunities
for adult education.

The Government of India has initiated several socio-economic projects and welfare schemes, the
implementation of which should help improving the economic condition of agricultural workers.
The Trade Unions and other rural workers organizations through their collective action initiatives
could help implement such schemes. Unfortunately, however, the trade union organizations have
not been involved much in the implementation of various anti-poverty and rural development
programmes. An extract from the presidential address to the Eighth National Conference of the
Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union held at Pondicherry on October 6-9, 1993 is highly illustrative in
this regard. “There were country-wide strikes of agricultural workers in 1980 and 1983 in which
lakhs of agricultural workers, women and men participated which forced the Central Government
to introduce the National Rural Employment Programme and Rural Landless Employment
Guarantee Scheme in 1983. We are not taking care and not intervening effectively for proper
implementation of the schemes to get maximum benefit to the deserving people. We are leaving
these programmes to the middlemen and bureautic administrative machinery and some corrupt

people inside and outside the administration for implementing them, which is resulting in denial of
benefits tom deserving rural poor”.

Although the involvement of major Central Trade Union Organizations in the implementation of
socio-ecfonomic projects for improving skills, employment and income of rural workers has been
negligible, the effort made by Hind Mazdoor Sabha and Indian National Trade Union Congress
are noteworthy. In Kerala, HMS claims to have assisted a number of agricultural rural workers to
get welfare cards. In West Bengal, Cha Mazdoor Sabha, affiliated to HMS is planning to start a
vocational instate to impart training for tailoring workers. The HMS has set up the Asian Workers’
Development Institute in Kourkela, Orissa, which imparts training in vocational trades such as
welder, electrician, data processing etc. It has helped a number of worker children and other youth
to get employment in different industries and also to develop their own self-employment schemes.
It has also set up Jai prakash Narain Institute of Trade Union Education and Research at Culcutta
for imparting training to trade union office bearers. Besides, HMS has promoted a number of
socio-economic projects among affiliated unions. These projects are run by workers and their
families and in some cases by retrenched workers, especially women workers in unorganized
sectors like home-based activity in the rural areas. These are micro-level attempts at employment
promotion, but their success is often limited due to low economics of scale, lower surplus per
member, marketing difficulty and lack of credit arrangement . The HMS-RTP has also established
a marketing outlet in Delhi in co-operation with a women’s organization. The Naga Coil fishing
Project in Tamil Nadu also was promoted by HMS, involving fisher folk who were adversely
affected by the mechanization and modernization of fishing industry. In addition, recently HKMS
has launched rural workers movement for right to work and for homestead land.

The Indian National Trade Union congress also had taken up TRYSEM and IRDP programmes
in Birbhum and Purulia districts in West Bengal, Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, Salem in Tamil
Nadu, Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh and Mangalore in Karnataka,. Besides Cha Majdoor Sangh in
Assam has promoted a number of employment and educational schemes for the youth and
children of tea workers respectively.

However, by large this could be attributed to efforts and interest of local leaders and there is no
clear cut policy direction from the top. In fact in each area, individual leaders give different types
of instruction and there is no systematic effort to involve their affiliated bodies in promoting
socio-economic schemes failed which acted as disincentive to the workers for taking up economic

VII. 1. Are there Restrictions on Participation of Trade Unions in Development Projects?

As per law, there are no restrictions on the participation of Trade Unions in rural development
schemes which could benefit the rural workers. But implementing authorities are generally
unclear about the implications of such participation and therefore, they discourage it. However,
NGO’s registered under the Societies Act get preference by the Government. Some NGOs are
even involved in monitoring of rural development programmes at the local as well as national

Besides, after discussion with major trade union Organizations it was observed that they were
involved more in national policy issues and politics and not so much in promoting development
or undertaking development schemes for the socio-economics benefits of rural working class.

Some of these Organizations also mentioned, that if trade unions get involved in such schemes,
their main line of action of struggle and conflict resolution would get diluted.

Nevertheless, it becomes clear from the foregoing analysis that following the adoption of ILO
Convention 141, the Government of India and its constituent states have enacted various laws in
order to promote the socio- economic welfare of the rural working class. But implementing of law
remained unsatisfactory due to inadequate and ineffective involvement of trade unions and other
rural workers Organizations. Most of the Central Trade Union Organizations have also shown
indifference to participate in the implementation of various direct anti-poverty rural development
programmes, the benefit of which would go directly to the poor working class. As we have already
pointed out, less that 5 per cent of rural workers in the country are organized at present and even
their involvement in promoting socio-economic projects for themselves is negligible.

VII. 2. Participation of Agricultural Workers Organizations in Panchayat Raj Institution

After the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution, Panchayat Raj Institutions have the major
responsibility of implementing rural development schemes which are intented to benefit the poor
agricultural workers. However due to inadequate involvement of trade unions and other
agricultural workers organizations, the poor workers fail to get the maximum benefit of the
existing programmes. Of course, in some cases trade union workers and voluntary agencies
actively particpate in Panchayat elections and try to get their candidates elected. But as their
membership and areas of influences remain limited, agricultural workers organizations have
largely failed to influence the functioning of Panchayat institutions. To this extent, such failure
has also deprived the working class to benefit effectively and substantially from the
implementation of rural development schemes.

VII. 3. Rural Workers Education and Vocational Training

Almost all the major National Level Trade Unions have set up training institutes for imparting
skills and vocational training to the workers. However, there is enormous scope and need for
improving the quality of education and training for upgrading their skills in order to enable the
workers to move upward. Also there should be adequate emphasis on development of leadership
quality and promotion of entrepreneurial ability, particularly among women and youth.

VII. 4. Participation of Trade Unions in the Implementation of Land Reforms

Redistributive land reform is considered to be crucial for poverty alleviation of the landless
agricultural workers. While implementation of land reform is the responsibility of the state
government, trade unions and rural workers Organizations can create pressure on the government
for enactment of appropriate land laws and therein effective implementations. They can also help
the government in identifying the nami or benami ceiling surplus land and redistributing them
among the rural landless poor. In the past, All India Kisan Sabha played an important role in the

implementation of land reforms in West Bengal and Kerala. Also there are examples of other
local level efforts made by trade unions to organize the rural poor for land reforms. For example,
in 1985, the Akhil Bhartiya Krishi Mazdoor Sangh, the rural wing of BMS, organized about 2000
tribal farmers in Buldhana district of Maharashtra and helped them to acquire ownership right of
forest and Government land.

Similarly All India Agricultural Workers’ Union have organized the maximum number of
unorganized rural workers. They organized the workers mainly on the issues of land reform &
minimum wages. In recent years, the AIAWU in collaboration with the BKMU occupied 2000
acres of challapalli Zamindar’s land in Andhra Pradesh and distributed to landless workers.
Andhra Pradesh Agricultural Workers Union further identified several thousand acres of land in
Krishna, Nellore, Nalgonda and Prakasham district and organized demonstrations and meetings
for distribution of land to the landless workers. The police arrested some union leaders, but the
land struggle of the union continues. The land movement has also spread to other states like Bihar,
Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

The All India Agricultural Workers Union passed a resolution even at the National Convention of
peasants and Agricultural workers, held in New Delhi on 21st August, 2000 that Government must
i) plug loopholes in land reform legislation which helps the landlords to by-pass it. (ii) withdraw
exceptions given to religious institutions and trusts, (iii) provide in law that the court should not
entertain title suits on ceiling surplus lands, (iv) redistribute the remaining ceiling surplus land
immediately, (v) record the rights of tenants and protect them all over the country.

The success story of ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal is well known for its positive impact on
productivity growth and welfare of the rural poor. All India Kisan Sabha and the Panchayat
institutions had an important role to play in this regard.

However, considering the country as a whole, the success achieved so far, is not very satisfactory.
Agricultural labourers, marginal farmers and sharecroppers are largely unorganized in most
places. Also, an effective implementation land reform requires united efforts of all potential
beneficiaries. This requires renewed effort on the part of all major trade unions and other rural
workers organization to organize agricultural workers for creating sufficient pressure for effective
implementation of land reforms. (Haque and Sirohi, 1986)

VII. 5. Implementation of Minimum Wages

The Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union, the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union and others have
also taken up the question of implementation of minimum wages. But as the agricultural workers
are largely unorganized, the implementation of minimum wages fixed by the various state
governments remain poor. Also the minimum wages are not regularly raised keeping in view the
rising prices. On the whole, the performance of the Unions and other rural workers Organizations
remains unsatisfactory in this regard.

VII. 6. Role of Trade Unions and Other Organizations in Eliminating the System of Child

The existence of the system of child labour is a blot on Indian society and all sections of the
society including trade unions and other organizations should make efforts for its elimination.

In recent years, almost all the national level trade unions have committed themselves to combat
and eliminate child labour through awareness generation campaign by (i) organizing workshops
and seminars (ii) printing of posters and handbills (iii) staging street plays and organizing the
demonstration, demanding the children’s right to basic education, a rise in the minimum wages
and proper enforcement of labor laws. Besides, some unions manage non-formal schools for child
labourers with the specific objective or preparing them for joining formal schools and have also
made networks with NGOs and other institutions in order to give a further boost to the campaign
against the practice of child labour. Furthermore, by taking up the child labour issue, trade unions
have been able to expand their work in the informal sector and also could educate themselves
about the laws relating to child and bonded labourers.

VII. 7. Occupational Safety and Health

Although pesticides may have to be used, there is a need for awareness of health and safety at
work. The Trade Unions and other workers organizations have to create pressure on the employers
for providing necessary health care and training facilities to the workers for safety at work. Also
the Government has a role to play, as investment on occupational safety and health care can be an
added value, which provides for improved working conditions, higher labour productivity and
healthier labour relations. The Plantation Labour Act, provides that where in any plantation, an
accident occurs, which causes death or which causes any bodily injury to a worker by reason of
which the injured is prevented from working for a period of forty eight hours, or more
immediately following the accident or which is of such a nature as may may be prescribed. Under
collective agreements, workers are to be provided protective cloth, umbrella and also training for
the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and implements. As per the available information, all
lagre plantation estates are providing protective clothing, e.g. umbrella, apron, woolen
jersey/blankets. Also medical facilities to workers and their dependants are provided in the
hospital. The Safety and Environmental Engineering Laboratory at Central Labour Institute,
Mumbai continues to provide its services through research, training, education and consultancy.
The Industrial Hygiene Division is concerned with education, research and training in the field of
assessment and control of toxic pollutants. During 1999-2000, four hundred and six personal
protective equipments were tested. Similary, Industrial Medicine Division of the Institute conducts
occupational health studies on health hazards, imparts training to medical officers and
management personnel. It also runs an occupational health clinic. Besides, Industrial Physiology
Division provides training on optimum working conditions based on phychology perspective for
better safety, health and welfare of people at work. Also the Institute for Plantation, Agricultural
and Rural Workers, Jalpaiguri impart training to the workers in the field of occupational safety and

VII. 8. Problems of Small and Marginal Farmers

As it has been pointed out before, above 80 per cent of operational holdings in India are small and
marginal. They suffer due to low ability to invest and low access to credit, technology, market and
other infrastructure due to unequal rural power structure. Also the average yields of principal
crops in India are much lower than those in other countries of the world. In fact, there has been an
overall deceleration in the growth rates of production of foodgrains and oilseeds during the past
few years (Planning Commission, 2000). Besides, within the country, the yields of crops are
abnormally low and stagnating in most regions, although there are some irrigated regions where
the crop yields are quite comparable with those in other parts of the world. The marketing
behaviour of small farmers in India, are a little peculiar. They tend to sell the substantial part of
their produce after harvest when the prices rule generally low. This is because they need to repay
loans taken from the private moneylenders and landlords immediately after harvest and also spend
on pending items of some essential nature. Hence providing price and market support to small
farmers during the harvesting season would be crucial for improving their income and living
standard. But after a few months when their stocks for home comsumption get exhausted, they
need to buy the same kind of grains and other products from the market at relatively much higher
prices. This causes a problem because even essential commodites like foodgrains become
unaffordable by them. Is it also not ironical that a small farmer has to sell his rice or wheat at low
prices during the harvesting season and buy the same products later at exorbitantly , even often
prohibitive high prices?. This partly explains why the unusual exchange or price system tend to
depress purchasing power and perpetuate poverty among small and marginal farmers in many
regions. This is particurlarly true, if they do not have access to subsidized foodgrains through fair
prices shops or otherwise. In addition, the overall index of agricultural terms of trade is reported to
have deteriorated in the past three years which cause agitation in the minds of farmers. In fact, the
index of input cost (based on T.E. 1990-91=100 increased from 166.1 in 1994 to 203.9 in 1999-
2000. (CACP, 2002)

On the top of all these problems, there is also lack of organisation on the part of small and
marginal farmers for strengthening their bargaining power in the society for a better deal. It has
been estimated that less 5 per cent of India’s rural workers are organised at present. There is
neither many cooperative institutions nor any large scale tarde union membership among small
and marginal farmers. As a result, they suffer various kinds of hardships silently and when things
become unbearable, some of them develop a tendency to commit suicide. In the month of January
2003 alone, twelve farmers in Anantpur district commited suicide due to crop failure and
indebtedness. (The New Indian Express, Hyderabad, February 3, 2003). The farmers’ suicide in
Anantpur district of A.P alone increased from 48 in 2001 and 103 in 2002 (Ibid). Similar cases of
farmers’ suicides are reported from other areas, including from the developed region of Punjab
(Sher Singh Gill, 1998)

VII. 9. Role of NGOs

In fact, some NGOs have played relatively more effective role in the elimination of the system of
child labour. These NGOs include (i) campaign against child labour, (ii) PRAYAS, (iii) Bangalore
Oniyavara Seva Coota (BISCO), (iv) Child in Need Institute (CINI), (v) Concerned for Working
Children (CWC), and (vi) M.V. Foundation, Hyderabad. However, most of these organizations

have concentrated their efforts in cities or nearby areas, while the children of remote areas have
yet to be brought under the net. Nevertheless, the activities of CINI, CWC and M.V. Foundation
cover also the children of rural areas. In fact, the SAHAY child sponsorship programme, initiated
by CINI has supported above one thousand children and their families, spread over six villages of
South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. It provides for all educational and other facilities to
the children. It has a special need based coaching programme, a small library, a vocational
training programme and facilities of health care and sanitation.

Similarly, the CWC has formed ‘Panchayat Toofans’, which is a comprehensive community
development programme in the interest of the child. It aims at stopping migration from rural areas
to the cities by strengthening infrastructure in the villages in the areas of education, health and
child care.

On the whole, however, it is fair to say that the efforts made by trade unions and NGOs for
elimination of child labour have been highly localized and insignificant. Their spread effects and
replicability are limited. Since the problem of child labour in rural areas the problem of child
labour in rural areas is complex and gigantic in nature, its elimination would require a concerted
and integrated efforts by trade unions, NGOs, parents, village teachers, Panchayat leaders, rural
development agencies and other Government functionaries.


Judged by various parameters of quality of life, is significant propotion of a agricultural workers,
lie at the lowest bottom. They do not have adequate access to facilities for education, health care
and opportunities to gainful employment and leisure (NIRD, 1999).Since overwhelming majority
of them are either landless labourers or marginal farmers, they have poor purchasing power and a
little command over goods and services. Also the physical environment in which they work and
live including personal safety,administration of justice social opportunity and participation is far
from decent. Here it would be worth examining the agricultural workers’ access to certain basic
parameters of quality of life:

VIII. 1. Average Earnings

The average per capita annual earnings of traditional agricultural workers (as of 1998) was
reported to be Rs.12,300, while it was Rs.14,533 for those employed in manifacturing industries.
In the plantation sector, the average per capital annual earnings ranged from Rs. 6,943 in Tripura
to Rs. 24, 799 in Tamil Nadu (Annual Returns, 1998).

VIII. 2. Poverty and Unemployment

According to various Rounds of National Sample Survey, the absolute number of rural poor
persons increased from 232 million in 1987-88 to 244 million in 1993-94 and then declined to 193
million in 1999-2000. (Planning Commission). Still about 27 per cent rural people are reported to
be below the poverty line. (Table 8.1) In several States including Bihar (44.3 per cent), Orissa
(48.0 per cent) and North Eastern States, the incidence of rural poverty is higher than the national

average (Economic Survey, 2001-02). The NSS data (NSSO, 50th round) further reveal that among
landless agricultural labourers, the incidence of poverty is as high as 71.8 per cent in Western Plan
region of Assam, 83 per cent in Jharkhand (former South Bihar), 78 per cent in Northern Bihar,
71.9 per cent in Central Bihar, 67 per cent in Eastern Haryana, 64.2 per cent in Chattisgarh, 89.6
per cent in South Western Madhya Pradesh, 72 to 76 per cent in various regions of Maharashtra
(other than coastal and inland Western Maharashtra), 61.9 per cent to 83.9 per cent in different
regions of Orissa, 73.5 per cent in Southern Rajasthan, 65.8 per certain northern coastal region,
73.4 per cent o 89.8 per cent in Central, Eastern and Southern Uttar Pradesh, 68.8 per cent in
Eastern part of West Bengal and 85.7 per cent in Himalayan region of West Bengal. Also among
self-employed cultivating households, the poverty ratio ranges between 30 to 50 per cent in
several regions including Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, large parts of Madhya Pradesh, and
Maharashtra, Orissa, Southern Rajasthan, coastal northern Tamil Nadu, all regions of Uttar
Pradesh (other than Western UP), and Eastern and Himalayan regions of West Bengal. Thus, a
significant population of agricultural workers, including both self-employed and wages workers
stay below the poverty line. They have poor purchasing power and command over goods and
services. The annual growth rate of employment as such has decelerated from about 2.04 per cent
during 1983–1994 to 0.98 per cent during 1994–2000. But the growth rate of agricultural
employment has declined from 1.51 per cent in earlier period to -0.34 per cent during 1994-2000.

The decline in agricultural employment growth was particularly high in regions with high
capitalization and high out put growth, such as Punjab and Haryana. The associated employment
elasticities with respect to output were as low as 0.00, 0.07, 0.19 for Punjab, Haryana and UP,
respectively (Bhalla et al, 1999). The NSSO data (50th round) further reveal that average number
of days of employment per usually employed persons in a year worked out to 333 for male
workers and 244 for female workers. However, the average daily wage rates of unskilled
agricultural labourers are still very low (less than Rs.50 per day) in several regions including
Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and north eastern regions
(table 8.2). It would be seen from Table 8.3, that the Minimum Wages fixed by the Government
are also very low in these regions. Therefore, the agricultural labourers in these regions always
tend to remain below the poverty line.

VIII. 3. Access to Health Care

The availability of hospitals, primary health centres and doctors does provide some indication of
health care facilities, even though the quality of services provided may not be captured by these
indicators. The available data show that at All India level, each public health centre has to cater to
the needs of as many as 31758 persons. It ranged from 22299 in Himachal Pradesh to 41418 in
Madhya Pradesh (WFP-MSSRF, 2001). The number of persons per doctor ranged between 4999
in Uttar Pradesh and 38107 in Bihar. Also the NFHS data reveals that as high as 35.4 per cent
children in the age of 1 to 2 years were not immunized. About 55 per cent rural population did not
have access to safe drinking water. In fact, more than 50 per cent villages in 120 districts in the
country did not have safe drinking water. As a result of all these, infant mortality rate, maternal
mortality were quite high in several regions. The number of infants dying before the age of one,
per thousand live births were as high as high 100 in Orissa, 99 in Madhya Pradesh and 89 in Uttar
Pradesh and Rajasthan. The percentages of severely stunted children were as high as 54 per cent
in Gujarat, 44 per cent in Bihar, 43 per cent in Maharashtra and 40 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and

Madhya Pradesh. The maternal mortality rate per one hundred thousand live births was highest in
Orissa at 679, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 649 and Madhya Pradesh with 567 (WFP-MSSRF,
2001). It was relatively lower in Kerala (179) and Karnataka (172). Also the percentage of
severely underweight children under five ranged from 16 per cent in Kerala to 36 per cent in
Gujarat. The average life expectancy at age one varied between 60.6 in Assam and 73.2 in Kerala.
Besides, in several states, a sizeable rural population was with chronic energy deficiency. It is as
high as 57 per cent in Orissa, 56 per cent in West Bengal, 53 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 54 per
cent in Karnataka, 53 per cent in Gujarat and 51 per cent in Bihar. However, only 23 per cent
population in Punjab and 33 per cent in Kerala were reported to suffer from chronic energy

VIII. 4. Access to Education

According to the latest Population Census (2001), still about 24 per cent of male and 46 per cent
of female population in the coutry were illiterate. The female illiteracy rates were as high as 66 per
cent in Bihar, 61 per cent in Jharkhand, 58 per cent in Jammu & Kashmir, 56 per cent in Rajashtan
57 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and 49 per cent in Orissa. The state of Kerala had the lowest female
illiteracy rate of 22 per cent and male illiteracy rate of 6 per cent only. In many regions, sufficient
numbers of schools do not exist according to the Census in India (2001), the number of schools
(upto higher secondary level) in rural India works out to less than 0.85 per thousand population.
As India Rural Development Report (NIRD, 1999) has also indicated that in nine out of 15 major
states studied. The percentage share of spending on education to SDP has declined in recent years.
These state include Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal
and Haryana. While rise in public investment in education may result in improved literacy in some
states, as seen in Kerala, it may not be a sufficient condition to produce high literacy states. The
spread of schools, the availability of teachers and incidence of poverty also matter. The
Government would probably have to attract the poor children move to schools and away from
work place, through various incentives, including provision of mid-day meals and also some cash
payment. The recent initiative by the Government of Madhya Pradesh is also quite encouraging.
The Governemnt of Madhya Pradesh has started a community centred initiative to universalise
primary education. This is called Education Guarantee Scheme (ECG). Under this scheme, the
Governement guarantees provision of a teacher, her / his salaries, teaching / learning materials and
other contingencies. Up to January 1, 1998, about 15,568 EGS schools were opened. Over 63 per
cent of these school werein tribal areas (NIRD, 1999)

VIII. 5. Access to Basic Infrastructure

About 9 per cent villages in the country are reported to be without electricity. But the percentages
of villages not having access to electricity were as high as 23 in Assam, 29 in Bihar, 30 in Orissa,
23 in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Further, nearly 47 per cent rural households did not have
the electricity connection. The percentages of households not having electricity were 90 in Bihar,
81 in Orissa, 84 in West Bengal and 80 in Uttar Pradesh. The percentages of households not
having electricity in Punjab (16 per cent), Haryana (18 per cent) and Himachal Pradesh (12 per
cent) were relatively low. Also according to the Planning Commission, about 80 per cent villages
located in 26 districts of Orissa and Uttaranchal are not connected with all weather roads. Also
192 out of 569 districts had less than 50 per cent villages connected with all weather roads. It

hardly requires to be mentioned that access to road and electricity has significant impact on
poverty reduction. (Fan, Hazell and Haque 2000)

Table 8.1 - Population Below Poverty Line 1999-2000 (Based on 30 days recall period)

             State/UT              Rural No. of persons (100,000)          % of persons
Andhra Pradesh                                 58.13                          11.05
Ar. Pradesh                                     3.80                          40.04
Assam                                           92.17                         40.04
Bihar                                         376.51                          44.30
Goa                                             0.11                           1.35
Gujarat                                        39.80                          13.17
Haryana                                        11.94                           8.27
H.P.                                            4.84                           7.94
J&K                                             2.97                           3.97
Karnataka                                      59.91                          17.38
Kerala                                         20.97                           9.38
Madhya Pradesh                                 217.32                         37.06
Maharashtra                                   125.12                          23.72
Manipur                                         6.53                          40.04
Meghalaya                                       7.89                           40.4
Mizoram                                         1.40                           40.4
Nagaland                                        5.21                           40.4
Orissa                                         143.69                         48.01
Punjab                                         10.20                           6.35
Rajasthan                                      55.06                          13.74
Sikkim                                           2.00                          40.4
Tamil Nadu                                     80.51                          20.55
Tripura                                        12.53                           40.4
Uttar Pradesh                                  412.01                         31.22
West Bengal                                   180.11                          31.85
A & N Islands                                    0.58                         20.55
Chandigarh                                      0.06                           5.75
D & N Haveli                                    0.30                          17.57
Daman & Diu                                      0.01                          1.35
Delhi                                           0.07                           0.40
Lakshadweep                                     0.03                           9.38
Pondicherry                                     0.64                          20.55
All India                                     1932.43                         27.09
Source :Planing Commission - Government of India.

Table 8.2 - Average Daily Wages (In Rupees) of Unskilled Agricultural Labour

S.No                State                     1998-99         1999-2000           2000-01(p)
1      Andhra Pradesh                          42.29             44.90                49.90
2      Assam                                   48.20             49.74                47.02
3      Bihar                                   39.32             40.04                45.20
4      Gujarat                                 58.17             66.87                69.17
5      Haryana                                 92/34            102.91               119.51
6      Himachal Pradesh                         86.07            80.96                80.96
7      Karnataka                                38.19            42.76                53.34
8      Kerala                                  134.27           117.19               152.15
9      Madhya Pradesh                          41.90             45.35                45.35
10     Maharashtra                             46.96             43.74                46.67
11     Orissa                                  32.35             35.29                49.66
12     Punjab                                  76.41             77.66                79.81
13     Rajasthan                               95.46             69.25                74.23
14     Tamil Nadu                              51.29             62.19                62.19
15     Tripura                                 43.55             43.55                43.55
16     Uttar Pradesh                           54.76             53.25                57.04
17     West Bengal                             61.90             61.29                63.33
P. Data is provisional
Note     Data is relates to states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is inclusive of
         New created states of Jharkand, Chattisgarh and Uttranchal respectively
         The data is for agricultural year (July to June)
Source : Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India

Table 8.3 - Daily Rates of Minimum Wages for Agricultural Workers fixed by Different
States/Uts under the Minimum Wages Act.,1948
                                                                    (As on 30.9.2001)
                                              Minimum wages for unskilled Agricultutral
Andhra Pradesh                             Rs.52.00 to Rs.55.50 p.d.(According to Zones)
Arunachal Pradesh                          Rs.39.87 to 42.11 p.d. (According to Areas)
                                           Rs.45.00 p.d. without food, shelter and clothing
                                           Rs. 38.60 p.d. plus food, shelter and clothing
Bihar                                      Rs. 37.88 p.d.
Gao                                        Rs.58.00p.d
Gujarat                                    Rs.75.80 p.d.
Haryana                                    Rs.70.30 p.d. with meals Rs.74.30 p.d. without meals
Himachal Pradesh                           Rs.51.00p.d.
Jammu & Kashmir                            Rs.30.00 p.d.
Karnataka                                  Rs.49.42 p.d.
                                           Rs.30.00 p.d. for light work Rs.40.20 p.d. for hard
Madhya Pradesh                             Rs.50.50 p.d.
Maharashtra                                Rs.35.00 to Rs.41.00 p.d. (According to zones)
                                           Rs.62.15 p.d. for valley areas Rs.65.15 p.d. for hill
Meghalaya                                  Rs.50.00 p.d.
Mizoram                                    Rs.70.00 p.d.
Nagaland                                   Rs.45.p.d.
Orissa                                     Rs.42.50.p.d
Punjab                                     Rs.69.25 p.d. Rs.78.70 p.d.
Rajasthan                                  Rs.60.00 p.d.
Sikkim                                     The minimum wages act 1948 yet to be extended
Tamil Nadu                                 Rs.54.00 p.d.
Tripura                                    Rs.45.00 p.d
Uttar Pradesh                              Rs.47.00 p.d.
                                           Rs.58.90 p.d. (with meals) Rs.62.10 p.d. (without
West Bengal
Andaman & Nicobar Island                   Rs.70.00 p.d. (Andaman) Rs.75. p.d. (Nicobar)
Chandigarh                                 Rs.81.65 p.d.
Dadra & Nagar Havely                       Rs.60.00 p.d.
                                           Rs.99.70 p.d.
(i) Pondicherry Region                     Rs.20.00 to Rs.22.00 p.d.
                                           Rs.30.00 p.d. for light work Rs.40.20 p.d. for hard
(ii) Mahe Region
(iii) Yanam Region                         Rs.19.25 to Rs26.25 p.d.
(iv) Karaikal                              Rs.20.00 to Rs.22.00 p.d.
Central Sphere                             Rs.83.02 to Rs92.71 p.d.
Ministry of Labour, New Delhi


Following the WTO Treaty, India has liberized its agricultural trade policy by removing all
quantative restrictions on imports of agricultural commodities and export of major commodities.
There has been tarrification of erstwhile non-tariff items and WTO compatible tariff rates prevail.

At the time of signing the AOA in 1994, it was hoped that Indian farmers would gain substantially
from trade liberalization, as our farmers would gain international market access for their products.
This was mainly because international price at the point of time were much higher than domestic
prices of most agricultural commodities. Besides, as per WTO commitments, the reduction in
domestic support (AMS) as well as export subsidies by developed country was expected to raise
the price level further, thereby enabling the Indian farmers to become internationally more
competitive and gain through have remarkably declined, thereby depressing India’s domestic
prices. As a matter of fact, historically international prices of agri-commodities have been volatile
in nature and often fluctuated more widely than our domestic prices and therefore, any expectation
to gain from international trade in a stable manner may be a misnomer.

In the wake of WTO, India’s exports of almost all agricultural commodities have sown a declining
trend. Due to low tariff, imports of edible oils particularly palm oil have surged which have
depressed the domestic prices of edible oils and oilseeds. As a result, Indian farmers have suffered
a great deal. Also the country imports edible oils to the tune of 46 lakh tonnes and spends huge
foreign exchange.

As a matter fact, the problem arises also because the developed countries have not reduced their
aggregate measure of domestic support (AMS) and export subsidies. As reported by OECD
(2001), the total support to agriculture in USA increased from $41,859 in base period of 1986-88
to $50,884 during 1998-2000. This meant about 22 per cent rise. In European Union, it rose from
$94,640 in the base period to $105,032 in 1998-2000, i.e. by 11 per cent; in Japan it increased
from $53,354 to $55, 498, i.e. by 4 per cent;in Korea it rose by 42 per cent i.e. from $12,218 in the
base period to $17,324 during1998-2000. In USA, it was all shown under Green Box subsidy. As
against this, product specific support in India was –3.05 billion dollar i.e. about –34.8 of the total
value of agricultural output, while non-product specific support after adjustment of support to
resource poor farmers worked out to 7.5 per cent in 1995-96 and only 2 to 3 per cent in 1997-98.
Unfortunately, even under WTO commitment, Canada and USA can extend support up to 26 per
cent and 12 per cent respectively, while they actually provide support of the order of 4 per cent
only. Thus, they can go further. EEC and Japan can subsidise agriculture up to 40 per cent of their
GDP from agriculture, while actual AMS by EEC and Japan during the first three years of
implementation of AOA, was only 30 per cent of GDP from agriculture. Developed countries also
manipulate by shifting support from non-exempt categories to exempt categories. The US shows
about one third of its GDP from agriculture as Green box subsidy, Japan about one fourth, Canada
and European Union nearly 13 per cent, Thailand 7 per cent, while India’s total no product
specific support works out to 2.3 per cent and so productive specific support is negative. What
makes the situation worse is that even under WTO commitment, EEC today could provide export
subsidy of Rs.330 per kg. On butter oil and butter Rs. 44 to 75, on skim milk powder, Rs. 300 per
quintal on wheat and wheat flour and Rs. 350 per quintal, on sugar export without violating AOA
(Chand & Philip, 2001). In fact, export subsidies on butter and butter oil, and skim milk powder in

EEC and USA form over 50 per cent of their export prices, while a country like India can neither
afford to give such high subsidy nor is so allowed. Furthermore, developing countries lack
adequate market access in developed countries due to high tariff rates on products of their interest
as well as non-tarrif barriers, stringent sanitary and phytosanitary measures and tariff rate quota
regime where the entry of new comer is difficult.

Thus, there is no level playing field created through AOA or WTO led trade liberization and
therefore, where is the question of small and marginal farmers in India benefiting from such
unequal open trade regime. In other words, the existing AOA is heavily biased in favour of
developed countries. Besides, even if Indian farmers are led to freely decide what they should
produce or should not produce, for domestic and international markets, based on comparison with
world market prices of the principle of comparative advantage, they will not gain much mileage
because of two reasons. First, the world market for agricultural commodities lack objectivity, as
these are largely controlled by a few oligopolists and multinational companies who account for
above 80 per cent of the world trade, (Dasgupta, 1999). Also there is a trend towards swapping
agreements among them and consequently, free trade will remain a myth. Second, small and
marginal farmers in India lack adequate access to marketing facilities even within the country due
to lack of access to basic infrastructure like market yards, within a reasonable distance, roads and
transportation, storage, cool chains etc. and therefore, depend heavily on unscrupulous middleman.
In other words, benefits of trade (if any), whether nationally or internationally, would be cornered
by the trading class farmers and may not really gain anything. (Haque and Naidu, 1999).
Moreover, in a country like India where there is huge population, Indian farmers can substantially
benefit from domestic market alone, provided there is sufficient improvement in purchasing power
of the people and necessary marketing infrastructure. In fact, enabling the small farmers to benefit
from development of domestic market would be a necessary pre-condition for their gainful access
to international markets.

As the same time, it is apprehended that the process of economic liberization will ultimately yield
a situation in which multinational companies will dominate the agricultural scene in India and
small farmers may lose their grips over agriculture, posing a risk of livelihood insecurity for
millions of people. (Reddy, 1997). Also trips and bio-piracy are likely to affect the Indian farmers
adversely. Already several traditional Indian products like kalajira, karela, brinjal and anar are
reported to have been patended in foreign countries, although India has won cases for Basmati and
Neem. In addition, the monopolistic / oligopolistic seed production my multinational companies
would tend to raise input prices, thus rising the farmer’s cost of production.

Quite interestingly, it has also been observed that the global agricultural trade as such has suffered
a set back in the wake of WTO. The volume of agricultural exports which was growing at the
annual rate of 5.2 per cent during the early 1990’s declerated to 3.4 per cent during 1995 to 1990
(Ramesh Chand, 2001)

However, the annual growth rates of India’s agricultural export declined more sharply, from about
15.6 per cent in the early 1990’s to 5.6 per cent in the post WTO period, i.e. 1996-1999. Similarly,
while the overall growth rate of developing countries’ market access to develop countries
declerated marginally from 0.77 per cent per annum in the early 1990’s to 0.37 per cent in the late
1990’s the growth rate of India’s share in world agricultural export declined sharply from 4.5 per

cent in the early 1990’s to 2.3 per cent in the late 1990’s, i.e during the post WTO period. It is
often argued that declining international prices and consequently lower domestic prices of
agricultural commodities in the wake of WTO should benefit the consumers, if not the producers.
Since small and marginal farmers as well as agricultural labour class are considered to be net
consumers, the overall net social welfare therefore is expected to increase. However, this does not
automatically happen because of various market inperfections and predominance of unorganised,
albeit explotative marketing arrangements. In act, the small and marginal farmers and agricultural
labourers who constitute the marginalised section of the rural population lose on both production
and consumption fronts. Because of their low bargaining power and participation in development,
they are simply net losers. Further, a recent study by Ramesh Chand (2001) shows that overall net
social gains of trade liberalization have been negative for relatively under developed regions of the

Thus the overall physical and economic environment is not conductive for upward mobility of
agriculture workers. Also the gap in socio-economic status of agriculture and non-agriculture
workers is widening. The country does not seem to be prepared yet to mainstream the agricultural
workers and put them on the growth path through appropriate policies and programmes.

IX. 1. Food Security of Agricultural Workers

Data show that the per capita net availability of foodgrains (cereals and pulses) declined from 186
per kg per year in 1991 to 169 kg per year in 1993. Up to 1998, it remained below the pre-reform
level except in 1997 when it reached 187 kg per year.

The ongoing economic reforms could have been responsibles for increasing the food insecurity of
the poor in many ways. First, in the wake of reforms. There was a rapid decline in the area under
food crops, as rich farmers switched over to non-food commercial crops. In year of bad weather,
as in 1995-96, such a shift in area can reduce foodgrain production and thereby the food stocks
and food availability per capita for the poor. Second, due to unemployment and decline in growth
rates of real wages in some states, the rural poor may suffer from lack of adequate purchasing
power. It has been estimated that even if two members of an agricultural labourer household were
fully employed at the current minimum wage rates, these families would stay below the poverty
line because the prevailing wage rates were abnormally low. Third, in the wake of the WTO
arrangement, there was an ongoing emphasis on export of foodgrains, particularly rice which tends
to reduce domestic measures to stabilize the domestic prices, but the question is how far can be a
nation depend on imports for food security. Experience prior to the green revolution was not very
encouraging in this respect.

Besides, the economic liberisation did not envisage the fixation of minimum wages; it stressed
more on wage employment flexibility, along neoclassical lines, although imperfection in the
domestic labour market due to a variety of reasons does not allow the new classical theory of wage
and employment to operate, at least not for unskilled agricultural workers.

The socio-economic conditions of agricultural and other rural workers deteriorated, as the
avaialable data suggest. But how far can we attribute this to economic liberalisation?. As we have
already mentioned, the pace of reforms in India, particularly in the rural sector is very mild.

Nevertheless, it is easy to comprehend how even some mild reforms affected employment and
income of rural workers both directly and indirectly. First, the capacity of the agricultural sector to
employ additional labour force is considerably reduced due to reduction in public investment in
agriculture. Private investment in agriculture, which depend to large extent on public investment
on infrastructure, in turn facilitates the private adoption of new technology. Second, reduction of
fertliser subsidy is reported to have affected agricultural production and consequently agricultural
employment adversely. Third, the Central Government expenditure on IRDP and special
employment schemes at real (1989-90) prices declined from Rs. 27.7 billion in 1989-90 to 24.3
billion in 1990-91, Rs. 18.2 billion in 1991-92 and Rs. 22.5 billion in 1992-93, although in 1993-
94, 1194-95 and 1995-96, there was a slight improvement in the expenditure under these heads. In
fact, employment generated under these special employment schemes declined from 874.6 million
person-days in 1990-91 to 808.1 million person-days in 1991-92 and 782.1 million person-days in
1992-93. However, the governement soon realized the need for augmenting investment and
employment. Anti-poverty programmes and additional employment generation received due
priority during 1993-94 and 1994-95. Available data show that the both self-employment and
wage employment under IRDP, JRY etc. declined initially and then increased during 1993-94 and
1994-95. However the results of a recent rapid rural appraisal show that implementation of anti-
poverty programmes remained largely ineffective and inefficient. While the real wages of
agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra were reported to have increased, there was
not significant change in the level of employment. In Punjab, the real wages of casual labourers
were reported to have declined. (World Bank, 1996). There was a secular worsening of the
condition of agricultural labourers due to increased casualization of the labour force and the
inability of the system to expand employment outside agriculture. The rising costs of cultivation
and low investment contributed to the problem.

IX. 2. Impact of Liberalization on Woman Workers

There is apprehension that economic liberalization, which tends to induce privatatisation and
market-led techonological change, may affect employment and income prospects of rural women
adversely. However, during the past few years of reform, no such adverse impact on average
employment of rural women workers is visible, expect that there is a shift from formal to informal
sector employment, which amounts to a qualitive deterioration in employment.

According to the 5th round of the NSS (Government of India, 1993), women workers constituted
35.6 per cent of the total rural workforce. The share of women in the total rural workforce
decreased slightly in 1993-94 as compared to 1987-88 (36.1 per cent). But there was a perceptible
rise in the propotion of women workers since 1990-91 when it was 33.1 per cent. NSS data further
bear out that the annual growth rate of employment of women workers was higher during 1998-98
than during 1983-88, both by the principal status and principal plus subsidiary status employment
categories. The average number of days of employment in a year increased among rural women
workers from 233.9 days in 1987-88 to 243.7 days in 1993-94, while there was a slight decline in
the case of rural men, from 339.3 to 332.6 days.

Of all the rural women workers, 84.7 per cent in the principal status and 86.2 per cent in the
principal plus subsidiary status categories, were employed in the agriculture sector. During 1987-
88 to 1993-94, there was an increase of about 2 per cent in the employment of women in the

agriculture sector. The proportion of female non-agriculture workers declined from 17.5 per cent
in 1987-88 to 15.3 per cent in 1993-94 for principal status and from 15.3 per cent in 1987-88 to
13.8 per cent in 1993-94 for principal plus subsidiary status. However, in a few states, like Kerala,
Manipur, Punjab, Sikkim and West Bengal, the proportion of non-farm women workers increased
considerably during the same period. Further, the proportion of non-farm female workers in
principal status category in the contruction and trade sectors declined in 1993-94 as compared to
1987-88, while that in the service sector increased. As the service sector in rural areas is largely
informal and lower paid, such a shift affected the economic condition of women workers

Besides, opening up of the fisheries sector to multinational and domestic corporate sector
reportedly displaced fisherwomen. Besides, privatisation discouraged employment of women
labour because of their demand for restricted working hours, maternity leave,etc. and the private
employer’s desire to reduce cost on welfare measures.

IX. 3. Summarising the Impact of Economic Liberalization on Agricultural Workers

The impact of economic liberalization on agricultural workers may be summarised as follows:

•        The volatility of international prices of agricultural commodities has affected agricultural
         workers in India adversely. Particularly during the last three years or so, most of India’s
         agricultural commodities have lost international competitiveness due to low international
         competitiveness due to low international prices. The exports of agricultural commodities
         have fallen. Simultaneaously, there have been increased imports of edible oils and raw
         cotton which have depressed the domestic prices of these commodities.

•        It has been reported that about 50,000 fishermen’s families lost their jobs since the right
         of fishing in Indian waters have been given to foreign firms.

•        It is apprehended that the process of economic liberalization will ultimately result in a
         situation in which multinational companies will dominate the agricultural scene in India
         and small farmers may lose their grips over agriculture, posing a risk of livelihood
         insecurity for millions of agricultural workers.

•        In the wake of WTO, not only agricultural exports have declined, but also rate of growth
         of agricultural output and employment. Consquently, both cultivating households as well
         as landless labourers have suffered a loss of income.

•        In the wake of economic liberalization, cultivators as well as agricultural labourers look
         depressesed because of deterioration in their income levels as well as uncertain future.
         Also the gap between agricultural and non-agricultural workers is widening

•        There is a secular worsening of the condition of agricultural labourers due to increase
         casualization of labour force and inability of the organized farm and non-farm sectors to
         absorb the growing labour force

•       In the plantaion sector too, the decline in the export earnings from tea, coffee and rubber
        and low domestic prices have affected both income and employment. Particularly,
        smaller plantations find it difficult to maintain the levels of employment and wages of the


India has a good tradition of evolving consensus on policy issues among the social partners
through tripartite negotiations. Important tripartite bodies set up by the Union Government to
provide a forum for discussion and consultant on labour matters include (i) The Indian Labour
Conference, (ii)The Standing Labour Committee, (iii) others Committees of tripartite caracters
which deal with various acpects of labour problem such as implementation and evaluation,
employment and training etc. The Indian Labour Conference which is the national tripartite body
in the country provide a forum for dialogue among Central Governement, State Government,
Employers’ Associations such as FICCI, CII and ASSOCHEM and Workers’ Unions. The
Diagram X.I shows the structure of this National Tripratite Body. The 11th Session of the ILC held
in 1951 underlined the need for workers’ vocational skill and practical training. Its 14th Session
held in 1953 emphasized the need for enactment of protective laws on child labour. The 15th
Session of the ILC held in 1957 recommended the setting up of the Central Board of Workers’
Education and also suggested the norms for fixation of minimum rates of wages. The 25th Session
of ILC held in 1985 also made a suggestion for a comprehensive legislation on child labour.
However, in the wake of economic liberalization, there is increasing decentralization of labour
relations which has weakened Central organizations of employers and workers as parties to
tripartite agreements. (Mitra, 2001, IJLE Vol.44, No.2). Further, due to rising trend towards
casualization of labour, there is a decline in the control of traditional unions on the workforce
(ILO, World Labour Report, Geneva 1998-99, PP.41-44)

The agricultural workers who are largely unorganized have not benefited much from the tripartite
consultation process. Agricultural workers do not have a strong voice in either
Parliament/Government or Central Trade Unions and as a result, there is not much social dialogue
in the agriculture for the planning, implementation and evaluation of economic and social
development projects, aiming at improvement in the quality of life of workers in the agricultural
sector. Nevertheless, emergence of effective panchayat raj system in some regions has helped
evolve a kind of mechanism in which political representatives of agricultural workers in panchayat
bodies participate in planning, implementation and evaluation of economic and social
development projects. Similar is the case with several village level watershed committees, Kisan
Mitra etc. where farmers participate in the planning and implementation of projects.

The situation at the macro level remains even worse, as government decide policies affecting the
interest and rights of rural workers without their involvement and participation. In July 1991 when
the New Economic Policies were announced, the government even did not bother to consult the
major trade adjustment programme on the working class. The standing Labour Committee was
convened only in July, 1992 after one year of announcement of policy that would affect the
employment and future of entire working class. The 80th International Labour Conference
convened by ILO at Geneva on 3.6.1993 adopted a resolution on social protection and the
alleviation of unemployment and poverty and the social dimension of structural adjustment and
transition to a market economy. It also emphasized the need for intensified co-operation between
ILO, IMF and the World Bank with a view to adjustment. But the Government of India did not
feel the necessity of involving workers Organizations in this respect. On December 5, 1993 the
Finance Minister of India addressed the leaders of trade union Organizations which merely,
conveyed the message that structural reforms would create more employment. There was no
consultation of trade unions involved about the reform package and its implications.

Similarly, on 11th January, 1999 the government announced its decision to set up second National
Commission on Labour, there was no effective consultation with the trade unions. Several national
level trade unions including CITU, AITUC, HMS and INTUC jointly suggested a few names of
eminent judges for appointment as chairman of the commission. But this was rejected (CITU).

In fact, the main reason why the policy makers do not involve either the major trade unions or
rural workers Organizations in planning and decision making process is that trade union
movement in India today remains greatly divided and weak. Although the working class forms
majority strength during elections, the working class is divided among party affiliations (along
party) line and fail to put united pressure for redressing their grievances and voices being heard.
Secondly, agricultural workers are not even properly organized.


The foregoing discussion clearly bears that the impact of various ILO Conventions on agricultural
workers and agricultural workers organizations has been an admixture of both success and failure

Various positive aspects of development include (i) increased and sustained membership of
agricultural workers organization; (ii) greater awareness and motivation for unified action by
agricultural workers; (iii) growing acceptance by the agricultural workers organizations to
promote socio-economic activities for the welfare of agricultural workers; (iv) greater enthusiasm
on the part of women and youth to participate in the activities of agricultural workers
organizations; and (v) general acceptence on the part the government to implement the provisions
of relevant ILO Conventions and Recommendations.

So far, the Government of India has ratified nearly 39 ILO Conventions of which convention No.
11 on Right of Association (Agriculture), Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration,
Convention No.123 on Minimum Age, Convention No. 141 on Rural Workers’ Organizations,
Convention No. 144 on triprate Consultations and Convention No. 105 on Abolution of Forced
Labour have direct bearings on agrcultural sector workers. (Appendix-VIII)

Keeping in view the letter and spirit of ILO Convention No. 141, the Government of India has
passed several laws and adopted policies for the promotion of agricultural workers’ organization
and their welfare through participation in development schemes. Even before the said Convention
was ratified by India in 1977, the Trade Union Act of 1996 gave the workers, including the rural
workers right to form or join an association. The members of the Association or Union also enjoy
immunity from civil suits in certain cases and protection against undue harrasment by any vested
interest or against criminal proceedings in respect of any agreements for the purpose of
furtherance of any legal object of the Union.

Similarly, the Societies Registration Act, 1860 was enacted to enable Co-operative Socities and
NGOs to promote worker’s welfare and development activities. Besides, the Government of India,
has enacted the following laws for the welfare of workers, including agricultural workers :

•       The Minimum Wages Act 1948
•       Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
•       Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976
•       Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986
•       The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of
        Service) Act, 1979

•        The Plantation Labour Act, 1951, as amended in 1981
•        Kerala Agricultural Worker’s Act, 1974

These Acts also provide for administrative structure for the implementation of relevant labour
laws, In fact, all the state governments have the positions of Labour Commssioner, Deputy Labour
Commissoner and Labour Inspectors for implementation of labour laws.

Nevertheless, due to tardy growth of agricultural workers organizations (excepting in Kerala)
inadequate pressure from trade unions and gigantic nature and magnitude of the problems, these,
laws remain largely ineffective. The agricultural workers have a general feeling that labour
inspectors rarely visit their sites and have shown hardly any concern for their welfare. In some
regions, where agricultural workers are organized, (e.g. Kerala) the implementation of laws are
better. But considering the country as a whole, less than 5 per cent of the rural workers are
reported to be organized. The national level trade unions have concentrated their effort mainly in
the industries/urban areas, although the organizations like All India Kisan Sabha, All India
Agricultural Worker’s Union and Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union have significent influence in
some regions. Also because the major trade unions are influenced by political parties, the interest
of workers often get ignored.

As D. Souza (1994) points out, the plethora of laws have not been able to rid the informal sector of
its negative characteristics such as lack of security of employment, low wages, exploitative and
unhygenic conditions of work and so on. Baxi (1993) further refers to this as a phenomenon of
lawless state, as the state itself fails to implement this laws, while implementing development

In 1981, the Government appointed 1,500 honorary rural Organizers in various states with a view
to educating rural workers of their rights and duties and enabling them to organize themselves into
co-operatives, trade unions or other forms of organizations as maybe necessary. It was intended (i)
to educate rural workers regarding their right and duties as citizens and (ii) to educate the rural
workers about co-operatives, rural health, hygiene and sanitation, plan and programme of
Government, family planning, small savings, methods of improving productivity of agriculture,
rural cottage industries and new 20 points programmes w.e.f January, 1982; (iii) to give sufficient
knowledge about concerned labour laws; (iv) to take assistance from other agencies for promotion
of rural development; and (v) to assist worker’s education scheme in organizing different
programmes for rural and unorganized workers of small scale industries. However, as things
stand, these organizers do not seem to have played their role well.

Besides, the rural worker’s education programme has become a regular feature through the Central
Board of Worker’s Education, creating awareness among the rural poor about their organization
and seeking benefits under various welfare and credit schemes the Indian Institute of Worker’s
Education at Bombay has also setup separate cells on (i) education of women and children; (ii)
industrial health and safety, and (iii) rural unorganized workers. In addition, the Government has
also passed several laws for implementation of minimum wages, land reforms, equal pay for equal
work, abolition of bonded labours etc. which could have improved the socio-economic condition
of the rural poor. Also, these issues could have been rallying points for trade unions and other
organizations to organize the unorganized agricultural workers. Similarly a number of rural

development schemes like Jawahar Rojgar Yojana (now Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana),
Intergrated Rural Development Programme, Training of Rural Youth For Self Employment,
Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas, Supply of Improved Toolkits to Rural
Artisans, Ganga Kalyan Yojana and Million Well Schemes, which have been reorganized as
Swaranjayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana w.e.f April 1, 1999, Employment Assurance Scheme,
Draught Prone Areas Programme, Desert Development Programme, National Watershed
Development Programme , National Social Assistance Programme, Insurance Cover for Small and
Marginal Farmers and Women etc. have been launched by the Government, the benefits of which
should have accrued to the rural poor. However, due to lack of inadequate organizational efforts
on the part of trade unions and other agricultural workers’ organizations, these schemes are not
adequately benefiting them. So far, hardly less than 5 per cent of the rural workers are reported to
be organized. It has been officially recognized that only 15 to 20 per cent of the money spent on
these programmes reach the needy poor.

Thus, on the whole, the impact of relevant ILO Conventions has been positive, but inadequate.
Various labour laws and anti-proverty programmes undertaken by the Government are
inconformity with the spirit and contents of relevant ILO Conventions. But, implementaion of
laws and Labour Welfare Programmes remain far from satisfactory. The distance to decent work
in agriculture is quite long and all concerned, including the Government, Trade Unions and the
ILO have to make intensive efforts to bridge the gap through tri-partite discussions, social
dialogue and provision of participatory development schemes.

Table 11.1 - List of Conventions Ratified by India

                               Title and No. of convention                          Date of Ratification
 1     No. 1 Hours of work (industry) convention, 1919                                 14.07.1921
 2     No. 2 Unemplyment convention 1919                                               14.07.1921
 3     No. 4 Night Work (women) convention 1919                                        14.07.1921
 4     No. 5 Minmum age (industry) convention 1919                                      09091955
 5     No. 6 Night work of young Persons (industry) convention 1919                    14.07.1921
 6     No. 11 Right of association (agriculture) convention, 1921                      11.05.1923
 7     No. 14 Weekly Rest (industry) convention, 1921                                  11.05.1923
 8     No. 15 Minimum Age (Trimmers and Stokers) Convention, 1921                      20.11.1922
 9     No. 16, Medical Examination of Young Persons (sea) convention 1921              20.11.1922
       No. 18, Workmen’s Compensation (occupational diseases) convention,
10                                                                                     30.09.1927
11     No. 19, Equlity of Treatment (Accident Compensation), convention 1925           30.09.1927
12     No. 21, Inspection of Emigrants Convention, 1926                                14.01.1928
       No. 27, Marking of Weight (Packages Transported by Vessels) convention,
15                                                                                     07.09.1931
16     No. 29, Forced Labour convention, 1930                                          30.11.1954
17     No. 32, Protection against accidents (Dockers) Convention (Revised ) 1934       10.02.1947
18.    No 41, Night Work ( Women) convention Revised 1934                              21.11.1935
19.    No 42, Worker;s Compensation ( Occupational Diseases)
       Convention (Revised) 1934                                                       13.01.1964
20.    No.45, Underground Work (Women) convention 1935                                 25.03.1938
21.    No,80, final articles Revision convention 1946                                  17.11.1947
22.    No.81, Labour Inspection convention, 1947                                       07.04.1949
23.    No.88, Employment Services Convention (Revised) 1948                            24.06.1959
24.    No 89, Night Work (Women) convention (revised ) 1948                            27.02.1950
25.    No.90,Night work of Young Persons (Industry) convention Revised 1948            27.02.1950
26.    No.100, Equal Remuneration convention, 1951                                     25.09.1958
27.    No. 107, Indigenous and Tribal Population convention, 1957                      29.09.1958
28.    No.111, Discrimination (employment and Occupation) convention 1958              03.06.1960
29..   No. 116 final Articles Revision Convention, 1961                                21.06.1962
30.    No. 118, Equality of Treatment (specal security) Convention, 1962               19.08.1964
31.    No.123, Minium Age (Underground Work)Convention, 1965                           20.03.1975
32.    No.115, Radiation Protection convention, 1960                                   17.11.1975
33.    No.141, Rural workers Organization Convention, 1975                             18.08.1977
       No.144, Tripartite Consultation (international Labour Standard) convention
35.    No.136, Benzene Convention, 1971                                                11.06.1991
36.    No.160, Labour Statistics convention, 1985                                      01.04.1992
37.    No.147, Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standard) convention, 1976                   26.09.1996
38.    No.122 Employment and Social Policy,. 1964                                      17.11.1998
39.    No.105 Abolition of forced Labour 1957                                          18.05.2000
Source : Ministry of Labour Government of India.

It becomes clear from the foregoing discussion that decent work deficits in Indian agriculture are
quite large. The incidence of poverty among cultivating households is quite high in several
regions, including Assam (32 to 42 per cent), Bihar (42 to 49 per cent), Central Western Madhya
Pradesh (40 percent), South Western Madhya Pradesh (55 percent), Orissa (37 to 56 percent),
Uttar Pradesh (25 to 57 percent) and Himalayan West Bengal (42 percent). In the case of
agricultural labour house holds, the incidence of poverty is even higher. It is 54 to 72 percent in
Assam, 72-83 percent in Bihar, 46 percent in Inland Southern Karnataka, 43, percent in northern
Kerala, 64, percent in Chattisgarh, 73 percent in central Madhya Pradesh, 72 percent in Inland
Northern Maharashtra, 76 percent in Inland Central Maharashtra, 74 to 75 percent in Eastern
Maharashtra, 62 to 84 percent in Orissa, 74 percent in Southern Rajasthan, 56 percent in South
Eastern Rajashtan, 66 percent in Coastal Northern Tamil Nadu, 56 percent in Sourthen Tamil
Nadu, 45 to 90 percent in Uttar Pradesh and 45 to 86 percent in West Bengal, (NIRD, 1999).

Due to increasing pressure of population on land and slow growth of non-farm employment,
marginalization of land holding as well as landlessness are on the rise. The proportion of marginal
and small land owners below 2 hectares increased from 75 percent in 1961-62 to 81 percent in
1991-92. The proportion of landless households increased from 9.6 percent in 1971 to 11.3 percent
in 1991 (NSSO, 49th Round)

According to current daily status, nearly 7.2 percent rural male workers and 7.0 percent female
workers are unemployed. Also about 10.5 percent male workers and 13.3 percent female workers
are reported as underemployed, as they fo not have regular employment. Besides, there in a
growing trend towards casualization of labour. The proportion of casual labour increased from 22
percent in 1972-73 to 41 percent in 1999-00. The latest round of NSS (NSSO, 2001), further
reveal that the average wage earnings of casual agricultural labourers was only Rs. 41.81 for male
worker and Rs. 32.73 for female workers. In the wake of economic liberalization since 1991, the
real wage rates of agricultural labourers declined in several states, including Assam and Punjab. At
All India level, the percentage change in real wages for unskilled agricultural labourer was 4.68
percent during 1981-91, while it decelerated to 2.04 percent in 1991-99 period. (Planning
Commission, 2000). Consequently, the current living and work conditions of agricultural
labourers and marginal farmers are far from decent. They lack assess to proper housing, sate
drinking water and medical care facilities. Moreover, due to lack of literacy, training and
inadequate access to credit, technology, roads, market, electricity and other infrastructure, the
scope for upward mobility of agricutural workers in quite limited. Also they do not have basic
rights at work, as expressed in ILO’s core labour standards, such as freedom of association,
freedom from discrimination, freedom from forced and child labour, even though the existing laws
provide for these basic rights. The problem arises mainly because the agricultural workers are not
organized and consequently their voices are not heard by the Government. In the absence of
organization, they also fail to benefit from various welfare schemes launched by the Government.
So far the efforts made by trade Unions, NGOs and other Groups have resulted in organizing less
than 5 percent of rural workers. To some extent workers in the large estate plantation sector,
accounting for hardly 20 to 25 percent of the total plantation sector workforce are organized and
have access to some basic work rights. For other workers, these are still a distant dream.

Based on the foregoing discussion, the main conclusions and recommendations of the study in the
context of decent work in agriculture would be as follows:

•       The condition and environment under which traditional agricultural workers in India
        work and live are far from decent. They have no security of employment, income and
        wage protection and access to basic amenities of life. Also they lack access to adequate
        opportunities (within or outside agriculture) for upward mobility through education, skill
        upgradation and absence of exploitation. The existing legal and institutional
        arrangements do not adequately provide for strengthening the agricultural workers’
        organizations, for protection of their rights at work, security and representation and
        dialogue. Hence, it would be of utmost importance to pass a Central legislation on
        agricultural workers that would provide the agricultural worker’s right to organize,
        security of employment, income/wage protection, access to basic amenities of life such as
        education, health care, occupational safety, old age pension, insurance, right to acquire
        training and skills for diversification and development of adult men and women workers
        and ensure equal wage for men and women workers.

•       The Government of India has passed several labour laws that are supposed to help
        promote welfare of agricultural workers. These include the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
        The wordmen’s compensation Act, 1923, The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 as amended in
        1970 and 1988, equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Bonded Labour Systerm (Abolition) Act,
        1976 and The Plantation Labour Act, 1951, as amended in 1981, Besides, The Trade
        Union Act, 1926 and Societies Registration Act, 1860 aim at helping the workers to get
        organized and achieve their rights at the work place. These laws respect the relevant ILO
        conventions and recommendations. However, the enforcement mechanism of these laws
        is very poor and consequently the benefits of existing labour laws do not adequately
        reach even the organized workers in agricultural and plantation sectors. Moreover, due to
        various socio-economic and political constraints, majority of agricultural and plantation
        workers in India could not organize themselves and consequently have no bargaining

•       The benefit of ILO’s core labour standard such as Freedom of Association is not
        available to traditional agricultural workers, as Registrars of Trade Unions in most places
        refuse to register any association of agricultural workers because of absence of any direct
        employer-employee relationship. Hardly 3.8 million agricultural and rural workers are
        reported to be organized. However, agricultural labourers in Kerala have successfully
        organized themselves under Trade Union banners which should act as a pointer to the
        recognition of the fact that agricultural labourers can be organized even in the absence of
        direct employer-employee relationship. Even self-employed cultivators and
        tenants/sharecroppers can form an organization under Societies’ Registration Act and
        make their voices heard by the Government and others concerned.

•       The Plantation Workers in Tea, Coffee and Rubber Sectors are generally organized under
        Trade Union banners and consequently their working and living conditions are generally
        better than their counterpart traditional agricultural workers who are not organized. But
        even in the plantation sector, there is often violation of worker’s rights such as maternity

    benefits to women workers. Also the existing housing, health care and schooling
    facilities are of inferior quality which requires to be improved.

•   The structure of agricultural employment in India is such that nearly 54.4 per cent of total
    mandays of employment is shared by traditional crop production sector where the
    agricultural workers are by and large unorganized. The plantation sector and the fisheries
    sector where the workers are largely organized account for only 0.3 per cent of total
    employment respectively. Other agricultural workers including animal husbandry (5.8
    per cent), forestry (0.5 per cent) and other non-crop based farm activities (8.7 per cent)
    are not organized, excepting forest workers in some regions.

•   In the wake of trade liberalization and commercialization of agriculture, there is a rising
    trend towards casualization of agricultural labour force. The casual workers are often
    more insecure in employment, and yet more difficult to be organized. Therefore, a
    focused attention should be paid by Central Trade Unions as well as local level
    agricultural workers’ organizations to organize them.

•   The position of women workers in agriculture is comparatively more insecure as they do
    not have either land ownership right or security of employment. They also receive lower
    wages than their male counterparts even for the same or similar nature of work.
    Therefore, Government as well as Trade Unions have to make special efforts to organize
    women workers and improve their access to land rights through land reform measures
    and security of employment and wage protection through a comprehensive legal and
    institutional arrangement.

•   Majority of agricultural workers in India comprise of small and marginal farmers and
    tenants. Because of small size of holdings, and low yields of traditional crops, their
    income levels are very low. Besides, they do not have adequate access to technology,
    credit and market, which are essential to improve their income and living conditions.
    Therefore, government as well as Trade Unions need to make special efforts to help
    develop the necessary infrastructure for accessing the above facilities by small and
    marginal farmers and tenants could improve their income and living standards.

•   The vast majority of agricultural and rural workers in India are extremely poor. They
    could not benefit much from various socio-economic development schemes floated by
    government and non-government agencies due to their non-involvement in the
    management and administration of such schemes. Therefore, the Government of India
    must specifically provide through a comprehensive legislation that rural workers
    organizations are entitled to receive financial and technical assistance from government
    and other national and international agencies to promote socio-economic development
    projects for the welfare of rural workers. Also CAPART and other organizations of the
    government which provide assistance to NGOs for the promotion of economic activities
    in rural areas, should be given clear instruction and guidelines in this regard. In fact,
    rural trade unions should be treated at par with NGOs to receive funds from the donor
    agencies even by relaxing Foreign Currency Regulation Act. Such legal and

    administrative action on the part of the government should facilitate the implementation
    of ILO Convention 141.

•   There should be a separate department of Agricultural Labour in each state for effective
    implementation of laws relating to agricultural workers. This would also imply the
    positions of separate Agricultural Labour Commissioner and Agricultural Labour
    Inspectors, at various levels.

•   Legal Aid Centre should be established in various parts of the country to sensitize the
    agricultural workers about labour laws and ensure their participation in the
    implementation of labour laws.

•   The National Mass Media should give wide coverage to various activities being
    undertaken in the fields of rural development and the labour welfare by government.
    NGOs and trade unions, which would help in creating awareness and motivation for
    agricultural workers in other areas.

•   Some of the trade union organizations which are interested to promote socio-economic
    projects for the welfare of rural workers, are often sceptical about their success because
    of lack of appropriate infrastructure, technology and skills. The concerned government
    and non-government institutions should be advised to assist in providing these missing
    links for viable functioning of the socio-economic projects in rural areas.

•   Members of agricultural workers organizations should be given training for formulation
    of socio-economic projects and their appraisal in order to ensure that the projects become
    technically feasible and economically sustainable. Besides, ILO and the National Level
    Organization like CAPART should serve as information centre for disseminating various
    available information in the relevant field.

•   Some Central Trade Unions organizations do not distinguish between men and women
    workers and therefore, women’s participation in the organization is low. Special efforts
    should be made by the unions to motivate youth and women to actively participate. In
    fact, this would enable them to organize the agricultural workers more effectively.

•   The National Commission on Agricultural Labour has made several useful
    recommendations, the adoption of which would strengthen the process of implementation
    of Convention 141. The National Commission has suggested that since trade unions and
    voluntary organizations have limited means, they should be given funds for organizing
    the rural poor. “While it would be desirable to have only one union in an area, it may not
    be feasible. It would therefore, be desirable to have joint Committees at the state, district
    and block levels. In the alternative, there can be federations or joint committee of rural
    labour organizations/unions at the district, state and national levels. If the lot of the
    agricultural worker has to be improved there should be movement across political colour,
    supplemented by a thrust by the government. Even land redistribution can come about
    only by a movement. There is also the need for demonstration of the panchayat”,
    enabling the agricultural workers to effectively participate.
•   In the plantation sector, effective implementation of existing labour laws would go a long
    way to improve the socio-economic status of plantation workers, although employers and
    contractors often use certain legal loopholes to deny benefits to the workers. Trade union
    organizations working in the plantation sectors should identify these loopholes and
    pressurize the government for amendments.

•   The Trade Union Organizations and voluntary organizations have to join together to
    prepare the agricultural workers to enable them to come out of the adverse impact of
    structural adjustment policies, if any, by securing adequate safeguard against
    unemployment and poverty, through training of workers for upgradation of skills for their
    upward mobility. Also in view of the possible cut in input subsidy, small farmers should
    be trained to look for alternative sources of soil nutrients like organic manure, bio-
    fertilizer, vermiculture and also in efficient management of irrigation water. Besides,
    Government would be required to provide effective credit, technology, price and
    marketing support to enable the small farmers to benefit from trade liberalization.

•   In fact, there is a specific need to encourage or assist workers to form independent
    organization through the following measures:

    •    Sensitization / awareness building campaign / training of agricultural workers.
    •    Identifying committed individuals who can be groomed for trade unionization or
         local level leadership.
    •    Access to credit and other financial support from government and other agencies for
         reducing the agricultural workers dependence on moneylenders, contractors and
         feudal landlords;
    •    Assistance for marketing of products of micro-enterprises run by agricultural
         workers’ organizations.
    •    Effective linkage between national trade union and local agricultural workers’
    •    Well defined relationship and positive interaction between agricultural workers’
         organizations and local self-governing bodies like Gram Panchayat / Mandal

•   The success stories of some Unions, NGOs and independent worker’s organizations
    reveal that with commitment and sincere effort, it is possible to organize the unorganized
    rural workers in remote areas. Therefore, trade unions and other organizations need to
    start a joint vigorous campaign for organization of the agricultural workers, for their
    welfare, forgetting their party affiliations. The rallying points could be the effective
    implementation of land reforms, minimum wages, rural development, anti-poverty
    schemes, abolition of child labour etc. The threats of globalization and economic
    liberalization further demand that agricultural workers’ organizations should rise above
    the party politics and protect the interests of agricultural workers through integrated
    organizational efforts.

•   Finally, increased public investment in agriculture development and social infrastructure
    such as education, health care, sanitation and housing facilities of agricultural workers
    would be essential to create decent conditions of work in the agricultural sector.

•   Bridging the distance to decent work is difficult, but not an impossible task. The
    Government have a responsibility to bridge the distance to decent work through increased
    investment on social and physical infrastructure, having focus on backward regions and
    the rural poor. Also the trade unions and other agricultural workers organizations have a
    role to play in organizing the workers and building necessary awareness and co-operation
    in their part, in the process of development. In the emerging scenario, the panchayat raj
    institutions would be the main player for local level development, Therefore, agricultural
    workers organizations must participate effectively in panchayat bodies and help recuce
    the decent work deficit. The points made in World Employment Report (1998-99) would
    be of further guidance. These include the following:

    •    General and vocational education and apprenticeship training which is cost effective
         and reflects market needs.
    •    Flexibility and ability of industries to absorb new technologies.
    •    Training systems need to be flexible and responsible based on broad participation of
         government, workers and employers.
    •    For women workers participation in management and provision of better child care
         and other family services and anti-discrimination laws.
    •    Upgrading “traditional” training and access to new technology with linkage to
         marketing and credit institutions.
    •    For youths, training with job search, career counselling, remedial education and
         subsidized work experience.
    •    For disabled, access to mainstream education and vocational training.

•   The distance to decent work in agriclture is quite long and the road is somewhat uneven.
    Nevertheless, if the Government and Trade Unions and other agricultural workers
    organizations join together and show their commitment to help develop necessary legal,
    social, physical and administrative infrastructure, it would be possible to drive the
    distance to decent work in agriculture in the near future.


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