07 October 2021, New Delhi: Over six lakh workers in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra fan out to western parts of the State, and neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for six months between October to March to cut sugarcane. However, this massive movement of workers was not on government record and hence they were deprived of development schemes and social security.
For the first time, the State government has initiated a programme to keep a record of the migrant workers and provide them with an identity card. Ganesh Eknath Mhaske from Gopinathgad in Parali taluka of Beed district in Maharashtra became the first sugarcane cutter to receive an identity card as a cane cutter through a digital registration process. With no other source of livelihood, young men and women in the region migrate during the sugarcane harvesting season every year, leaving behind their parents and kids. Activists charge that sugarcane cutters are like bonded labourers and contractors exploit them in all possible ways.
“We had no identity. We are out of our villages for six months and many continue to work in other districts even after cane cutting season is over. The majority of us are deprived of the government’s scheme and help. Identity card will help us to get an official identity as sugarcane cutters,” said Bhagyashree Tekale from Beed.
Activists who had compiled a report in 2019, Crushed Hopes: The Plight of Women Cane Cutters in Maharashtra on the condition of sugarcane cutters have been insisting on a registration drive. the was published following a BusinessLine report on hysterectomy among women working as sugarcane harvesters in Beed.
“Currently, they are not registered under any law. The only record of them is the lists maintained by contractors for the sugar factories. Lack of registration means there is no information on the exact numbers of active cane cutters in the State for whom policies and programmes need to be designed. It is also an obstacle to recognising them as workers and thereby their rights as workers. The women are even more in the dark as they are only a partner in the cane cutting task” activists had demanded in the report.
The government plans to provide health schemes, financial assistance and accommodation for sugarcane cutters and their families and identity cards will help to get the benefits of schemes planned for them.
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