In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Agricultural Labour 2. Causes of Agricultural Labour’s Growth 3. Economic Conditions 4. Improvement 5. Government Measures.

Introduction to Agricultural Labour:

Farm labourers constituting about 23% of whole rural population have been existing in sub-human conditions for centuries. They have been exploited and ill-treated by the landlords. Till the dawn of Independence nothing was actually done to improve their lot. Under the Indian Constitution, everyone will have to be given equal opportunity in education, employment, etc.

Further the Constitution demands that the Government shall be helpful to those sections of the society which are weak and backward. The Government has special responsibility for improving the economic conditions of the farm labourers.

Further, in these days, increased farm production through better agricultural organisation and management has become a must. How can this be fully realised unless the farm workers are given a better treatment? It is in this context the improvement of the agricultural labour has assumed a special significance.


Agricultural labour may be divided into two categories:

(i) Landless labourers, working for others;

(ii) Small peasants with very little land but who devote much time working for others.

In category (i) of landless labourers, there are some who are attached permanently to some estates and when the latter are sold away, the labourers are passed on to the new owners. They do not normally receive wages in cash but are generally paid in kind. They have 10 labour for their masters and cannot shift from one to another.


They have to provide ‘beggar’ or forced labour. The Kamay in Bihar, the Pannaiyal in Tamil Nadu, the Colis in Maharashtra, the Shalkari in M.P., the Charkar in Orissa etc., are landless labourers of category no. (i) They are almost slaves. But this type is gradually declining. The most common type is those landless workers who are independent permanently but work exclusively for them.

Some data are available regarding the number of farm labour. The second Agricultural Labour Enquiry conducted in I960, stated that agricultural labour families constituted nearly 25% of all rural families. More than 85% of the rural workers are casual and independent serving any farmer who is willing to engage them and only 15% of agricultural labourers are attached to specific landlords.

The number of surplus manpower in the family is indeed very small. More than 50% of the farm workers do not possess any land. Even the rest of them own only very little of land and are landless labourers. Most farm workers belong to the depressed classes which have been neglected for centuries. The low castes and the depressed classes have been socially handicapped and they bad never the courage to assert themselves and have been like dumb-driven cattle.

Growth of Agricultural Labour in Industries

Table 1 clearly shows the fact that the number of agricultural workers in India has been increasing continuously. Presently these are more than 112 million agricultural labour in India.


Causes of Agricultural Labour’s Growth:

The causes operating to bring about the growth of the class may be broadly up us follows:

(i) High net growth rate of the population in this country;

(ii) Growth of indebtedness due to low income leading to transfer of land from the small owners to the creditors, resulting in the former into becoming agricultural labourers ;

(iii) Displacement of means of subsidiary occupations whereby existence solely on an uneconomic unit of land becomes impossible;

(iv) Growth of absentee landlordism; and

(v) The extension of money economy to rural areas in replacement of payment in kinds;

(vi) Disintegration of village communities of the pre-nineteenth century;


(vii) Decline of domestic industries and handicrafts;

(viii) Disintegration of the peasantry;

(ix) a severe agricultural depression in the late twenties ; and

(x) other social factors such as economic transition through which some of the criminal tribes and castes have been passing…………. all these led to the emergence of a class of landless labourers in the country.


In this connection Dr. R. K. Mukherjee rightly observes: “Every circumstance which has weakened the position of the small holder has increased the number of agricultural labourers, viz., the loss of common rights in the rural economy, the misuses of collective enterprise, the sub-division of holdings, the multiplication of rent receivers free mortgaging and transfer of land followed by a decline in cottage industries.”

Besides, change in proprietary rights, among the vribal people also bought about a change in the position and converted them from tenants to landless labourers. This has happened to the Gonds and Bhils of M. P.; the Korwas of U. P. and the Mundas of Chhota Nagpur.

Economic Conditions of Agricultural Labour:

The economic conditions of agricultural labour are indeed pitiable. They have been getting low wages and leading an extremely miserable life.

(1) Low Social Status:


Most agricultural workers belong to the depressed classes which have been neglected for ages. The low caste and the depressed classes have been socially handicapped and they had never the courage to assert themselves. They have been like dumb-driven cattle.

(2) Unemployment and under-employment:

Unemployment and under­employment are two important factors responsible for low income and consequently low economic position of the agricultural labour in our country. The farm workers do not have continuous work.

It has been estimated by the Second Agricultural Labour Enquiry that on an average an agricultural labourer finds employment for about 197 days in a year and for the rest of the year he is idle. Apart from under-employment there is also unemployment in rural areas. Lack of continuous work is responsible for low income and consequently low living standard of farm workers.

(3) Paucity of Non-agricultural occupation:

Another important factor for the low wages and poor economic condition of the farm labourers is paucity of non-agricultural occupation in rural areas. For one thing, the growing population pressure is increasingly felt in rural areas and the number of landless labourers is steadily on increase.


For another, the absence of any other occupation in rural areas and lack of inter-regional mobility have been responsible for worsening the population pressure on land. It follows that the economic condition of the labouring classes can be bettered by the provision of supplementary jobs.

(4) Unorganised, Illiterate and Ignorant Workers:

Urban workers in industries are organised in trade unions and they have been able to secure high wages. Farm workers are illiterate and ignorant and live in scattered villages. Hence they could not be organised in trade unions.

In urban areas workers could organise themselves and it was convenient for political parties to take interest in trade union activity. This is almost difficult in case of Agricultural labour. Accordingly, it is difficult for them to bargain with the landowners and secure high wages.

(5) Indebtedness Farm workers are heavily indebted:

Normally, the agricultural labourers borrow from the landowners under whom they work. Naturally, they are forced to accept lower wages from them.


Sometimes, the workers may not have their own houses, or if they have their own houses, they may have constructed them on land contributed by the landlords. For this also, the workers feel obliged to the landlords. Thus heavy indebtedness is a basic factor of poor economic condition of agricultural labourers.

Thus the agricultural labourers have been getting very low wages and have to live in a miserable sub-human condition partly because of factors beyond their control and partly because of their inherent poor bargaining power.

Improvement of Agricultural Labour:

Many suggestions have been put forth for the improvement of farm workers which are as follows:

(1) Abolition of Agricultural Slavery:

According to our Constitution the practice of slavery in any form is not permissible. Agricultural slavery which exists in many parts of India will have to go. Agrarian serfdom which has been in vogue for centuries cannot go so easily.

This is so because the workers are helpless, ignorant and illiterate. Education of the rural masses and better opportunities are some of the remedies for the removal of the system of agricultural slavery. When the lower classes are sufficiently educated and made conscious of their rights, they will fight certainly against slavery.


(2) Minimum Agricultural Wages:

Measures should be taken, to enhance the wages of farm workers. Unless this is done it is not possible to raise their economic condition. Farm workers have been getting very low wages except in Punjab. Minimum Wages Act has been passed in most of the States. There are limitations in properly enforcing them. Minimum legislation alone is not sufficient but steps should be taken to enforce it.

(3) Provision of Land:

The basic difficulty is that most of our agricultural labourers do not have any land of their own. To improve their condition, the landless workers should be provided with land. One way is to allot to them the newly reclaimed land. Another way is to redistribute the existing land among all people either on a voluntary basis or by using a certain amount of compulsion.

Ceiling of landholding serves this purpose. The Bhoodan movement is also one of the methods by which those who possess land, contribute voluntarily for those who do not possess any land. Another method is co-operative farming. The landless labourers can improve their lot only through acquiring land.

(4) Co-operative Fanning:


The measures suggested above will help in promoting the economic conditions of farm workers but the ultimate solution probably lies in the creation of co-operative system in which all per sons including the present working class, will have equal rights. The differences between the large and small farmers will have to go and similarly the landless labourers who are suffering from so many handicaps will have to be brought to the level of all others.

(5) More and Fuller Employment:

Because of seasonal characters of Indian agriculture, the farm labourer do not have full-time employment. Both intensive cultivation and extension of irrigation are very much required to increase agricultural work. There will be double cropping and employment will be available for the whole year.

There is much scope for the setting up of village and rural industries which will make use of the raw materials readily available in the villages and which will provide occupation for the rural population. Examples of such industries are sugarcane crushing, cotton finning, production of oils and soaps, brick-kilns, manufacture of paper, etc.

The setting up of small industrial units supported by rural electrification will help farm labour in many ways, as for example reduction of seasonal unemployment, diversion of surplus labour power to rural industries, reduction of the pressure of population on agriculture, to raise agricultural productivity and also raise wages of farm labour, etc.

(6) Public Works Programmes:

The setting up of small industries and public works programmes have great importance in the mobilisation of manpower resources in villages and in raising the wages of the rural masses and, indirectly, the income of the country.

In this connection the usefulness of public works may be emphasized. The Government can plan its projects in the rural areas carefully, so that the workers who may be unemployed during the off-seasons may be gainfully employed. Such projects include the construction of roads, the digging and deepening of tanks and canals, afforestation etc.

Government Measures Pertaining to Agricultural Labour:

(1) Declaring Serfdom an Offence:

Our Constitution has declared the practice of serfdom an offence. It has abolished agrarian slavery including forced labour by law but it will take some time before it is removed in practice.

Since 1947, the Centre as well as the States have taken measures to increase the wages of farm labour and to improve their economic and social conditions. They include the passing of legislation to fix minimum wages for farm labour, the removal of disabilities, the ceiling on holdings and the redistribution of land among the landless labourers, etc.

(2) Passing of Minimum Wages Act, 1948:

An important step taken by (the Government is the passing of the Minimum Wages Act in 1948 under which farm workers will have to be paid a minimum wage. The minimum wages are fixed keeping, in view the local costs and standard of living, they vary between 66 paise to Rs. 150 per day.

Since conditions in various parts of the country are different and since even within a State the law allows different rates of wages, to be fixed, in practice, it is very difficult to enforce minimum wages effectively. Fortunately, the inflationary situation has pushed up wages for farm workers.

(3) Land Reforms:

Various land reforms have been passed by the Government which aim at bettering the economic position of agricultural labourers. For instance, with the abolition of the zamindari system all the exploitation associated with the system has been removed. Tenancy laws have been passed in most of the States protecting the interests of the tenants and labourers, and enabling them to acquire the lands they cultivate.

Every State has passed law fixing ceiling on agricultural holdings by which the maximum amount of land which a person can hold has been fixed by law, the surplus lands of rich landowners are to be distributed to the landless labourers, and small peasants.

(4) Labour Co-operatives:

After Independence, efforts have been made to encourage the formation of labour co-operatives. These co-operatives, whose members are workers, undertake the contract of govt. projects, such as, construction of roads, digging of canals and tanks, afforestation, etc.

They provide employment to farm workers during off-seasons and also eliminate that possible exploitation of workers by the private contractors. The basic idea of the movement is commendable. The movement has yet to gain momentum in the rural areas.

(5) Employment Guarantee Scheme:

The Govt. of Maharashtra has introduced the ‘Employment Guarantee Scheme’ under which any able-bodied person in rural areas can apply for a job to the Collector of his district or to his authorised subordinate official and the latter will provide him employment within 5 kilometres of his place of residence. For this purpose, the Government has to prepare and keep in readiness various public works, such as irrigation works, road construction, etc.

The rate of wages will not be such as to attract agricultural workers from their normal employment in agricultural operations. This is a welcome step to provide employment to all persons and it is expected that all other states would introduce similar schemes.

(6) 20-Point Programme:

In July, 1975, soon after the Emergency was declared, the Government introduced the 20-point economic programme which included a number of measures to improve the economic condition of the landless workers and other weaker sections of the community in our villages.

These measures were:

(i) Speedy implementation of ceiling legislation and distribution of surplus land among landless labourers and small peasants;

(ii) Provision of house sites For landless labourers and conferment of ownership rights of the houses if they have been occupying them for a certain period;

(iii) Abolition of bonded labour;

(iv) Liquidation of rural indebtedness and moratorium on recovery of debts from landless labourers, artisans and small peasants; and

(v) Review of the minimum wage legislation for agricultural labour and introduction of suitable enhancement of minimum wages wherever necessary.

The landless labourers who form 20 to 22% of the total population have been living a miserable existence, with highly inadequate food, clothing and housing. Their wages are low; they are forced to work for the same landlords for generations; and they do not own even the huts in which they live.

The landless labourers are indeed the worst exploited section of the community. The 20-point programme was the first concrete step to ameliorate their economic condition and promote their welfare and attempt was made to implement the programme vigorously. With the coming into power of the Janata Party at the Centre, the future of the 20-point programme has become uncertain. Politics apart, the various points of the 20-point economic programme are worth implementing.

The Planning Commission have rightly felt that the benefits of many of the development programmes have not reached the landless farm labour. They, therefore, have suggested the formation of a board in each State to co­ordinate all measures proposed for the benefit of farm workers.

The co­ordination should take place at the level of a community development block, at the district and at higher levels. Further, the Planning Commission have decided to set up a Central Advisory Committee to advise the Commission on problems of landless labour in general and on the problem of settling them on land in particular.