Apple growers facing labour problem in Himachal


By: Satyander S Rana

Kullu: With a bumper apple crop this season, orchard owners in the valley are facing a problem of plenty. Problem, because of the shortage of manpower to transport the apple cartons from the orchards to road-heads. Traditionally, Nepali labourers had been doing the job, but this year there is a severe shortage of these “Gorkhas” in the valley.

With Maoists making peace with the government and joining the mainstream in Nepal, a good number of Nepali force in Himachal has gone back home to find out the well-being of their homes and relatives. “I had five Gorkhas working for me on my orchard. They went home a month ago with a promise to return in 15 days. However, it’s been a month now. Either they haven’t returned from Nepal or have gone elsewhere,” said Budhi Parkash Thakur, an orchardist from Khakhnal, near Manali.

Thakur also runs a youth hostel (Sarthak Resorts), where three Nepalis are on payroll. However, as of now only one is working for him. The other two have gone home to Nepal. “The one left behind, didn’t go because of his family being here and his little daughter studying in a local school,” Thakur said.

Whatever workforce is available, has already been booked and the fruit-plucking season is just a week away. Subhash Negi, an orchardist from the upper Beas valley, informed that some orchardists have sponsored trips of labour contractors to Nepal to get workforce. Another farmer claimed that they had already borne losses due to labour shortage during the pear season as the fruit could not be transported on time.

A labour contractor disclosed that the primary reason for Nepalis not arriving here this season could be the normalisation of political atmosphere in the country. “There is enough construction work coming up in Nepal which is making people stay there,” said Bhagat Bahadur, a Nepali contractor.

If the trend continues, the problem may further aggravate future as Himachalis, barring Sirmauris, are as such not interested in this kind of bread-earning activity, and it may take some time for other migrants, say Biharis, to settle down.

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  1. The problem of labour is accute in this apple season. I have observed a major shift in trend of the Nepali labour residing in the apple belt. The labourers whho came here 20 years back were all hard working and there children who studied in the local Govt schools and did there matriculation and 12th here are all in good positions back in Nepal and other children are working as domestic helps in Delhi. These children have a different life style and they do occassionaly visit the parents back home in HP. I had a Nepali who had 7 children and 2 are in Nepal in revenue deptt and the rest work as domestic help in Delhi.

    The other option could be Bihari or Jharkhand labour but it will take 2-3 years for them to venture in the apple heartland of Himachal

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