False promises, failed schemes adding to plight of migrant Odisha labourers

Bolangir/Nuapada: In October last year, the Odisha government had identified 30 focus panchayats in Bolangir and Nuapada districts to curb the menace of bonded labour and migration. While incidents of exploitation of Odisha labourers outside the state are on the rise, it seems that false promises and failed schemes at home are the root causes of such plight.

Last year, labour minister Sushant Singh had said that “The government has announced a scheme for 30 ‘focus’ panchayats of Bolangir and Nuapada districts under which Rs 134 crore will be spent in phases for farmers to purchase agriculture equipment and seeds.” After the announcement of the scheme, there was hope for bonded labourers in the state to find work in their respective districts. However, after one year, there is no whiff of the scheme and the labourers continue to migrate and take up bonded labour work.

The condition of the residents of Badhaipada village in Bolangir district speaks volumes about the seriousness of the problem. The houses in the village are mostly locked as most of them have left for bonded labour work while the rest await calls from the middlemen and contractors. The condition is the same in Pacher village under Padiabahal panchayat. Due to absence of irrigation facilities, there is no scope for farming and locals are left with no choice but to take up bonded labour work.

“We heard that the government announced Rs 134 crore to help us. But where is the money,” asked Suresh Sahu, a Dhandamunda panchayat resident.

“There is no work here and the members of the family are forced to go to other states for work,” Dukha Thakur, a resident of Padiabahal panchayat said.

The Labour department had held a meeting with the district collectors of Bolangir, Nuapada and other affected districts in October last year. Though the Labour minister had announced a package of Rs 134 crore for 30 panchayats of these districts (to be called as focus panchayats), there are no records of what amount of money went to these districts.

Snehansu Kumar Paul, Executive Engineer of the Lift Irrigation Department said “We have not received any funds.”

“The Agriculture department has not been issued any funds. We have our own funds for the projects,” said Sridhar Das, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Bolangir district.

Suresh Chandra Behera, District Labour Officer, Bolangir said “You can request for the report on progress made by the concerned departments. They had made some progress as reported in the last survey report.”