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Column: A Welcome Package

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik announced a special livelihood package for migrant workers in 20 migration-prone blocks of four western Odisha districts on the Makar Sankranti day.

The package envisages assured work for at least 200 days in a year under MGNREGA at a minimum wage of Rs.286. 30 per day for unskilled daily wagers in 477 gram panchayats of these blocks in Bargarh, Balangir, Nuapada and Kalahandi districts. These panchayats will be treated as intensive GPs under the Odisha Livelihoods Mission and each beneficiary family will be brought under the fold of Self-Help Groups (SHG) which will receive financial assistance from the Community Investment Fund (CIF) and Voluntary Reduction Fund (VRF).

The state government has created a Corpus Fund of Rs.500 crore to ensure timely and uninterrupted payment of wages to these labourers under MGNREGA. While eligible households will also be provided ‘pucca’ houses all SHG members will be insured. These are the major features of the package which seeks to address the basic issue of livelihood which is at the heart of the problem of labour migration.

There is no denying that the issue needs immediate redressal with media frequently reporting stories of torture of migrant labourers at the hands of labour touts and their employers in alien climes. Only a few months ago illegal labour agents had chopped off the toes and fingers of a migrant labourer from Nuapada in Maharashtra’s Nagpur.

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A similar incident had taken place in 2013 when a labour contractor, referred to as ‘sardar’ in the migration belt of Odisha, had chopped off the palms of two labourers–Nilambar Dhangada and Bialu Nial—for refusing to do his bidding. Natives of backward Kalahandi district they had been hired by the contractor to work in Raipur but were asked to proceed to a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh at the last moment. When they refused the contractor and his henchmen cut off their palms leaving them permanently disabled.

However, this inhuman labour traffic continues uninterrupted despite such incidents because the employment scenario in the migration prone districts of the state remains grim. On a rough estimate roughly around 3.5 lakh people from Kalahandi, Balangir, Nuapada and Sonepur, the four west Odisha districts that are part of the infamous KBK belt, migrate to other states annually in search of jobs. Bargarh has also earned notoriety for annual exodus of labour from its various blocks.

Most of these are drought-prone districts and when agriculture suffers people in villages are left with practically no other livelihood options. The landless, who earn by working in the fields of well to do farmers, are forced to migrate in search of work. The exodus begins soon after Nuakhai, the region’s biggest festival when poor families take advance money from the agents of labour contractors who infiltrate the villages.

The argument that these people migrate in search of greener pastures is completely misleading. It is a well-known and well recorded fact that the poor men and women from these hunger zones of western Odisha leave their homes behind and take the risk of working in alien lands because there are no livelihood opportunities for them at home. The government has admitted this fact with the announcement of the special package by the chief minister. One only hopes that the package is implemented honestly.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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