ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Migrant Labour in Maharashtra’s Sugar Industry

This article summarises the scenario of migration of sugar cane harvesting workers from Beed, a drought-prone district from Marathwada region, Maharashtra. Seasonal and distressed migration of the sugar cane harvesting workers, which happens to be the most vulnerable section of the sugar industry in Maharashtra, remains a largely overlooked arena in scholarly discussions as well as policy circles. Hence this article, based on a study conducted by the Unique Foundation, Pune, seeks to unravel this phenomenon by looking into the socio-economic profile of the migrants, causal factors behind migration and ramifications of the same.

Circulatory migration has been recognised as a significant part of livelihood strategies of the rural population in India. Contemporary forms of circulatory migration in India can be divided into two types—“accumulative migration” and “coping migration” (Deshingkar and Farrington 2009). Accumulative migration is referred to as the migration by the better-off and relatively more educated/skilled ones, which results in accumulation of assets, savings and investment, whereas coping migration by the poor and least educated is a kind of forced migration for the sake of survival. Migration for sugar cane harvesting has been a major coping livelihood strategy for the poor labourers from arid and drought-prone areas of Maharashtra. These cane harvesters are considered to be one of the most exploited sections among circulatory seasonal migrants. Inadequate wages, lack of facilities, such as clean drinking water, fuel and sanitation, lack of social security and unorganised nature make their position all the more vulnerable. The poor working conditions of sugar cane workers have prompted renowned researcher Jan Breman (1990) to comment that “even dogs are better off” than the cane harvesters.

Maharashtra is one of the leading sugar producing states in India. According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra (2016–17), the state has 34% of the total sugar factories in India. Maharashtra was on the top contributing 33.5% of the total sugar production in India in the year 2015–16. It is important to note that although Maharashtra’s sugar factories started as the private venture they were subsequently taken over by the cooperative sector. “The first ever-successful sugar cooperative in India was set up in 1951–52 in Ahmednagar district with the initiative of V E Vikhe Patil and D R Gadgil” (Baviskar 2007). However, the private sugar industry in the state has also shown a surge in recent years. Out of the total 188 operating sugar factories in the state, 101 are in the cooperative sector and 87 are in the private sector (Sugar Commissionerate of Maharashtra 2017–18).

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Updated On : 21st May, 2019

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