Here is a farmer for whom every labourer wants to work. Here is a farmer who has not only provided dignity to labour, literally and metamorphically, but also set a trend that may not be that easy to follow. It takes a lot of courage, both morally and financially, to emulate what this farmer from Daroli village in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra (part of the suicide belt of Vidharbha) has done.
Meet Subhash Sharma, an organic farmer. What makes him a stalwart among his fellow colleagues is the exemplary manner in which he treats his workers. It is not only a lesson for fellow farmers but also for numerous other organisations, private and government institutions, and corporate house who not only ill-treat labourers but have invariably deprived them of their legitimate due.
Well, when was the last time you heard farm labourers being given an annual bonus and leave travel allowance? Now don't be startled, Subhash Sharma provides an annual bonus to his team of farm workers -- 16 men and 35 women -- who labour on his farm. They get something like Rs 4.5 lakh every year as bonus, which means roughly Rs 9,000 per person.
Like the leave travel facility that some autonomous institutions and corporate houses provide to their permanent employees, Subhash Sharma also ensures that his workers travel to one part of the country or other once in a year. Each worker is also entitled to 50 holidays in a year, something that every daily wage worker would feel envious of. This news comes at a time when there is hardly a day when we don't hear of workers being inhumanly treated, and being underpaid.
I think Subhash Sharma's greatest contribution is that he recognises that every worker has a right to life and therefore deserve life's bounties to which we all crave (and fight) for. At the same time, Sharma has risen above the need to accumulate wealth at every cost, and is willing to share his profits (from organic and natural farming practices) with fellow workers. Even India's top billionaires -- Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata and the Real Estate giants DLF and the likes -- have never treated the casual labour employed in their projects with respect.
It is not the money which makes the difference, it is the attitude. Somehow we all believe (let us accept it) in getting physical labour dirt cheap. We crib endlessly whenever we find the labourers asking for a little higher daily wage.
Subhash Sharma is not a big landlord. He owns 16 acres of farm land. And like most of the farmers in the country, he too was in the thick of the vicious cycle of external inputs and perpetual indebtedness. "Between 1988 and 1994, it was the worst period for me," he recalls. It was then that he resolved to emerge out of the chakravyuah and throw away the yolk of mounting indebtedness. "I decided to abandon the NPK model of farming, and shift the organic cultivation, and the turnaround has led me to a new beginning."
"I now walk with freedom and with my head held high," he had once told me.
Subhash Sharma says that the only way to pull out farmers from the vicious cycle of indebtedness is to push them out of the Green Revolution model of farming. There is a fundamental flaw in the Green Revolution farming system. It can never provide money in the hands of farmers. It is during the workshops that he is conducting in several parts of the country, recently concluding a number of workshops for farmers in some nine districts of Punjab, that he teaches them by practical training on how to shift to natural farming practices and thereby emerge out of indebtedness.
From 16 acres of land, if Subhash Sharma can demonstrate an economically viable model, with inclusive social equity and justice, I think the message is very powerful and strong. Here lies the answer to agricultural growth and also to country's food security. Subhash Sharma does not let his workers be dependent upon the corrupt NREGA programmes (promising 100-days assured employment in a year), nor does his farm workers wait endlessly for the grain rations coming from the bogus Public Distribution System.
Subhash Sharma has even built up a corpus, a Social Security Fund, of approximately Rs 15 lakh for meeting any eventuality that the workers might encounter. Some death in their family or the marriage of the girl child does bring additional burden, and some relief comes from the Social Security Fund. He also shares the cost of education of their children and other health expenses.