Mrunal Manmay Dash

For some, May 1 is a day to celebrate the contribution of labourers in Nation building. For some other workers, the day is nothing more than a holiday to spend time with family. But for a majority of labourers in Odisha, May 1 means another day without food if they fail to find work.

Labour markets play a central role in determining economic and social progress since employment is one of the key determinants of poverty alleviation. Yet the reality in Odisha is that there are not enough jobs in the formal economy that would help individuals and their families prosper.

In Bhubaneswar, there are labour markets operating regularly at different locations like Lingaraj Station Square, Old Town, Kalpana Square, Ravi Talkies Square, and VSS Nagar etc.

Bhima Behera, a labourer said, “I am waiting here since 8am. Whoever slows down near me, I run to them expecting to get work. When I see a goods truck, I run to them too. It is 11 AM now but I am yet to find any work till now.”

“Whether I will eat on a particular day or stay hungry depends on luck. If I get work, I eat, otherwise I along with my family go hungry,” he rued.

Moving on to Western Odisha, Lalbahadur Naik from Debiripali village under Bolangir’s Belapara block has been bed-ridden since his return from Andhra Pradesh. He had left home to work in a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh where he met with an accident that left him crippled.

He mortgaged all his farmland to get treatment in Odisha, and now, as he is left with nothing, he awaits government help to survive. That too eludes his family members who have been running pillar to post for the same.

Uma Naik, his wife, said, “My husband was the sole bread earner in our family of five. It has been six months since his illness. The only thing I am getting from the government is the rice. That apart, I have not got any help from the government.”

Some labourers, however, knew the significance of May 1 and used the occasion to vent their anger against the government. As per reports, labourers from Beheramunda Panchayat under the same Belapada block shunned migration and decided to work in their village under the MGNREGS. But they are still unpaid even after six months of the completion of work.

To make their voices heard, they chose May 1 and locked up the Sarpanch and Executive Officer (EO) inside the Panchayat office.

“We have not been paid for six months. How are we supposed to feed our family? I do not care if there is a day dedicated to the labourers like us. We want our money and a regular income, which seems not to be the case here,” said a labourer, Santosh Bagh.

Sadly, these are not isolated cases. Labourers across Odisha are facing the same problem every alternate day. However, the Labour minister asserted that government benefits are reaching all the labourers in the State.

Speaking to the reporters, Odisha Labour Minister, Srikant Sahu said, “We have paid Rs 3000 crore for the welfare of organised and unorganised labourers through the Nirman Shramik Kalyan Board. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has always been looking out for the labourers and their interests in Odisha.”

Tall claims by the government apart, the reality is that thousands of labourers from districts like Bolangir, Kalahandi and Ganjam are migrating to other States to find work.

For them, May Day is just a blurred date on the calendar.