Distress migration of workers rampant in Odisha

By Chinmaya Dehury

Bhubaneswar, Dec 20:

Tens of thousands of workers from Odisha migrate to other states in search of work, with activists alleging many of them are paid low wages for hard labour and exploited. The government says it is taking steps to arrest the migration and associated socio-economic problems.

File pic of migrant labourers boarding a train to Hyderabad
File pic of migrant labourers boarding a train to Hyderabad

Most go out in search of employment to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, West Bengal and even Delhi. While some earn good wages, most of them slave away for meagre wages.

In the process, they get cheated and exploited.

Bibeka Chinda, a migrant labourer from Boudh district in Odisha, died of severe burns at a Bolangir hospital Monday night. Before dying, he told police and doctors that he attempted suicide by holding a live wire after watching his wife gang- raped and his sons killed by the owner of a brick kiln and his associates at Hyderabad.

In December, a labour contractor and his four henchmen allegedly chopped off the hands of two migrant workers after they refused to work in a brick kiln in Chhattisgarh.

A well-entrenched chain of labour contractors and middlemen organise the trafficking of labour from villages of western Odisha to cities, activists say.

They generally move to other states from the beginning of November and work till June. The districts accounting for most such labour are Nuapada, Bolangir and Kalahandi.

Despite the stories of setback they hear, there is no end to the migration as they hardly get any work in villages.

“There is no job at home for the migrant labourers,” said Umi Daniel, head of the Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), which works for migrants.

“Even as the government is doing a rescue act, it has failed to provide any job guarantee to them. So distress migration is rampant in western Odisha, the state’s poorest region,” Daniel added.

The state government had given licence to 3,213 registered contractors to provide employment to labourers outside Odisha in 2009-14.

Labour and ESI Minister Prafulla Mallick told the Odisha assembly that 3,054 labourers from the state had been rescued from other states in the last five years.

The central and state governments have launched several schemes to arrest the migration. But activists say the schemes have not made any dent in the socio-economic compulsions that drive the poor to seek work elsewhere.

The Odisha government says it has taken several steps to improve the welfare of migrant labourers.

“The government has launched a survey of migrant labourers through the State Labour Institute,” the labour minister told IANS.

While the survey has been completed in Balangir district, it is underway in Ganjam, Gajapati, Subarnapur, Koraput, Nuapada, Rayagada, Kalahandi and Bargarh districts, he said.

The government has also announced a toll-free number which distraught labourers can call if they have grievances. (IANS)

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