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Exodus of migrant workforce may hit Kashmir badly

As the harvesting season, which begins in September, is at its peak, the mass exodus of the migrant labourers from the Valley could significantly hit the agriculture related activities

Exodus of migrant workforce may hit Kashmir badly

Gulzar Bhat

Imtiyaz Ahmad is trying hard to convince a group of migrant labourers in a Pulwama village, some 30 kms south of Srinagar, to return to work. But the reluctant workers, who are busy in packing their duffle bags and suit cases are all determined to leave the Valley.

The group, which had been working in Ahmed's field for the last few weeks had no plans to make a homeward journey during the peak harvesting season but the recent targeted killings spurred them to do so.

“We are feeling insecure here”, said one of them, getting fidgety.

Migrant workers toil hard in Kashmir to scrape a living
Migrant workers toil hard in Kashmir to scrape a living
Photo: Mir Zeeshan

In this month, eleven civilians including five non-local labourers were shot dead in a string of targeted attacks, prompting thousands of these workers to head back home in a tearing hurry.

"I have not seen such a grim situation here in the last two decades", said Manoj Kumar, another labourer from Bihar.

Every year thousands of labourers from various states of India make a beeline for the Valley in the month of April and return in December.

According to an official, the labourers from the sates like Bihar, West Bengal, UP and Rajasthan form over 80 per cent of the Valley's workforce.

"Around four lakh migrant labourers show up in the Valley every year and work in farms, small scale industries, factories, brick kilns, saloons and construction companies", said the official.

Official data suggest that majority of the migrant labourers work in agriculture sector. As per 2011 census, the sector engages 29 per cent of the migrant workforce, while 12 per cent of such labourers work in household industries. The construction industry in the Valley engages 2.025 per cent of the total such workforce.

As the harvesting season, which begins in September and lasts till November end, is at its peak, the mass exodus of the migrant labourers from the Valley could significantly hit the agriculture related activities.

"In this season, it is usually difficult to find a labourer. The exodus of migrant labourers could make things worse, " said Basharat Bhat, a fruit grower from the Valley's apple rich Shopian district, which produces around 3.5 lakh metric tonnes of the fruit annually.

Another farmer from the area told National Herald that the acute shortage of the workforce would be felt in the coming days.

"If the migrant labourers continue to flee the Valley, there will be soon an acute shortage of the workforce", he said.

A day after two more non-local labourers were shot in south Kashmir's Kulgam district, the migrant labourers have been leaving the Valley in buses, shared cabs and trains.

On Monday, the trains, which pulled out of Nowgam railway station in Srinagar were more or less full of the migrant labourers.

Neeraj, a labourer from UP said that it was difficult to work in the Valley under current circumstances.

He said that many of them had been moved to the security zones while others were asked not to venture out.

However, there are many such labourers who have decided not to leave the Valley.

"I have been working here since the troubled 90s and never felt unsafe. I haven't seen people more humble and caring anywhere than in the Valley. I don't have any plans to leave the Valley", said Mohan, a resident of UP.

A brick kiln owner in Kulgam told National Herald that the exodus of non-local labourers would result in expensive labour.

"There are around 15 to 20 brick kilns in the area and in each kiln, around 150 to 200 non-local labourers are working. If they continue to flee the area, the labour costs will shoot up considerably ", he said.

He said that the construction in the Valley was going on at full throttle.

The owner, however, added that no labourer from his kiln had fled thus far.

Javed Ahmad Khan, who teaches Economics at Islamic University of Science and Technology , Awantipora, Kashmir said, " If the current trend of exodus continues, it will decrease the output of economy and increase the labour wages".

Khan, however, said that the exodus at this point of time would not impact much as the Valley was inching towards off season.

(Gulzar Bhat is a Srinagar based journalist. He tweets @Gulzarbhatt).

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Published: 20 Oct 2021, 12:19 PM