What's New :
Meet the Mentor: Guidance and Mentorship for IAS 2024/25. Book Now

Declining trend in Casual Labour in Agriculture sector

Published: 28th Mar, 2019

  • According to a data series released by NSSO, the share of rural households with major income from casual labour in agriculture decreased by 10 percentage points since 2011-12.
  • There is a drop of 15 million families (from 36 million to 21 million) who were dependent on casual farm work.



  • According to a data series released by NSSO, the share of rural households with major income from casual labour in agriculture decreased by 10 percentage points since 2011-12.
  • There is a drop of 15 million families (from 36 million to 21 million) who were dependent on casual farm work.
  • Since 2011-12, India’s national workforce shrunk by 4.7 crore — more than the population of Saudi Arabia.


It is estimated that 3.2 crore casual laborers lost their jobs in rural India between 2011-12 and 2017-18. Of these, almost 3 crore were those working on farms.

This implies that there is a 40 per cent shrinkage in the casual farm labor workforce since 2011-12.


The basis of above findings are rooted in the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-2018 report by NSSO which the government has declined to release.

Casual labour, irregular employment or part-time labour, including the labour of workers whose normal employment consists of a series of short-term jobs.

Casual labour is usually hired by the hour or day or for the performance of specific tasks, while part-time labour is typically scheduled for a minimum number of hours per week.

Construction, logging, sawmilling, agriculture, and the service trades industries have relied heavily on casual labour.

National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has been regularly conducting nation-wide surveys on various socio-economic subjects.

Results of these surveys are used for planning, policy formulation and decision making.

NSSO has also launched a new employment-unemployment survey, namely, Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS).

PLFS is a continuous/regular survey for generating estimates of various labour force indicators on quarterly basis for urban areas and annual basis for both rural and urban areas, at State/UT and all-India level.

What is Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) of the NSSO?

  • One of the major statistical hurdles in our country is the estimation of reliable employment and unemployment data.
  • The NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) has historically been conducting Employment and Unemployment Surveys as part of its National Sample Surveys.
  • These surveys were the prime source for statistics about employment and unemployment situation in the country.
  • From 2017 onwards, a nationwide Labor Force Survey called Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) was launched by the NSSO.
  • The PLFS was aimed to provide quarterly employment and unemployment data. Report of the PLFS was expected in December 2018 but was postponed.

Quarterly changes of various indicators of the labour market in urban areas as well as to generate the annual estimates of different labour force indicators both in rural and urban areas are the supplementary objectives of the PLFS.

Annual estimates (for both rural and urban areas) would be generated for major parameters like:

  • Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR),
  • Worker Population Ratio (WPR),
  • Unemployment Rate (UR),
  • Distribution of workers by industry, occupation, workers employed in informal sector and
  • Conditions of employment of the workers
  • The first results of the PLFS was scheduled to be available by December 2018 and from thereafter on a regular basis (release of the data was postponed as a result of higher unemployment figure).


According to NSSO data, the rural casual labour segment — farm and non-farm — shows an overall slide of 7.3 per cent in male and 3.3 per cent in female employment since 2011-12

A bulk of this loss, almost 3 crore, was in casual farm labour since the fall in households dependent on non-agricultural casual labour was negligible (from 13.5 per cent to 12.9 per cent)

The PLFS 2017-18 report identifies a 4 per cent rise in self-employed farm labour.

Since it is unlikely that casual labourers became landholders overnight, this may be partly explained by a stagnation in agriculture leading to reduced hiring capacity of the landowner.

It looks like that the hired casual labour is getting substituted by household (self) labour.

Why the issue is gaining importance?

  • For the first time since 1993-94, the actual size of India’s male workforce, has shrunk. Data from the NSSO’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, account for 28.6 crore employed male in the country.
  • This is the first instance of a drop in the male workforce that steadily swelled from 21.9 crore in 1993-94 to 30.4 crore in 2011-12 when the last NSSO survey was conducted.
  • This suggests fewer men were employed in 2017-18 compared with five years ago.
  • While the employment loss in the rural segment hurt the women most (68 per cent), men suffered more (96 per cent) job losses in the urban areas.

Why this should be a worry?

  • A shrinking workforce suggests an increase in the number of unemployed, and also points to fewer new job opportunities.
  • Given India’s demography and labour force growth over the decades, this should be a cause for concern.

Declining trend observed in skill building capacities:

  • According to PLFS 2017-18, the percentage of working age (15-59 years) population that received any formal vocational/technical training actually came down from 2.2 per cent in 2011-12 to 2 per cent in 2017-18.
  • Among the youth (15-29 years), however, a jump of 0.1 per cent is recorded in the same time period.

Labour at Farm vs. Worker with skills:

  • In India, while contribution of agriculture to GDP has been declining, agriculture still remains mainstay of the rural economy by employing almost half of the population.
  • However, the gap between job seekers in rural areas and employment opportunities in agriculture has been widening and non-farm sector has become an increasingly important source of livelihood.
  • ILO has observed a significant shift towards non-farm employment in rural areas, and this shift happened predominantly among economically weaker sections of the rural society.
  • Access to land was an important determinant in this process of rural employment diversification.
  • However, this diversification has generally been offset by low capacity augmentation in education (Economic Survey highlighted Learning Poverty Count and Learning Poverty Gap) and skill building exercise.
  • Most of these initiatives have been marred by poor implementation and vested corrupt interests.
  • Until 2006, the situation was little better because Among non-farm activities, construction was one of the predominant forms of employment to a considerable section of workers due to the fact that it did not necessarily ask for any specific skill.
  • It was due to the option of seasonal employment which allowed workers to take up agricultural activities during peak seasons.
  • However, recession and slowdowns have greatly impacted demand creation in this sector as well and that has cumulatively led to the decline in Worker's productive engagement.

Can MGNREGA bridge the gap?

  • It is in this context of overall scenario of rural labour market that MGNREGA assumes significance in providing social protection, asset creation, and empowering the poor.
  • In India, the economic deprivation is most pronounced among SCs and STs. Therefore, it is not surprising that SCs and STs constituted the bulk of the households that got MGNREGA work.
  • Almost half of the households that got work under MGNREGA belonged to either SC or ST social groups.
  • While some of the economically weaker States like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh were better performers in this regard (which is a positive thing), other economically backward States like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa were lagging behind.
  • In addition to increase in days of employment, a very significant impact of MGNREGA has been in an overall rise in rural wages, and thereby resulting in improvement of consumption among poorer households.
  • It is high time that the PLFS 2017-18 report be published and a Social audit based accountability outcome of all relevant socio-economically schemes/programmes be carried out and deeper questions be asked as to when and where did the trail was missed.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

According to NSSO, casual farm labour has shrunken by 40% since 2011-12. This equals to a total job loss of nearly 3 crore. Critically evaluate the challenges that it has forecasted.

Verifying, please be patient.

Enquire Now