Migrant workers are bonded, not human being in India!
By Akhand in Bhubaneswar, India
Migrant labourers in Indian eastern state Orissa, who leave their villages in order for better jobs continue narrate a grim situation that the State is facing. Kabi Khila is back in his village from Baleri district of southern Indian state Karnataka where he was taken by a labour agent to do manual work. But he is no more a normal person now; he has lost his mental balance.
Colleagues from his village Paikphulbeda under Dasmantpur block of Koraput, a tribal district in Orissa, who also had migrated to the same place, say that Kabi was beaten and tortured by his employers, Manu Patra and Benu Patra of SNC agency in Karnataka leading to this situation.
Nearly 13 people from the village were taken to the place and trapped there since June 2008. They were only released after reports were published in local media. "We were made to work for hours at a stretch in the Karnataka Power Corporation, were always abused in filthy languages and were also intermittently beaten up by the Patra brothers, mainly Manu Patra," informed Raghu Gadva, Alu Gadva and Maheswar Syrya of the village who managed to return home.
In Baringpali village of Nandapur bock of Koraput, six adolescent girls and seven lads were taken by the labour agent Prasanna Nayak to Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh in November 2007 to work on a railway track there. Not only were they paid wages less than the promised amount, a girl was slapped by the supervisor in the workplace.
In Khinimunga village of Nandapur block, one Kaliomoni Hontal died of diarrhoea in December, immediately after returning from Visakhapatnam of Andhra Pradesh where she had gone to work. Still, a good number of people were ready to leave for Andhra Pradesh in January, after the NREGS work was stopped in their village.
The matter was brought under the notice of the administrator of the District who ordered the lower officer to resume work so that the villagers did not leave the village for work. When asked about the reason behind leaving for other States, despite being aware of the risk involved, the labourers replied that insufficient or no work within the State forced them to leave their villages.
Despite tall claims of the State Government about its performance in the implementation of the National Rural employment Guarentee Scheme (NREGS), it has not been able to bring down the level of distressed migration. In the Barigipali village only one NREGS work of road construction came to the village in March 2007, which fetched barely 11 days of work to some people.
Similarly, in the Paikphulbeda not much work was allotted under the scheme that could meet the demand of work in the village.
All these labourers said that if they were given 100 days of work in the village at the rate of Rs 70 per day, they would certainly not go out to work.
Official statistics from Nandapur block of the district suggested that there are 25,550 households in the block, for which an amount of Rs 23 crores is required to provide 100 days of work to all the
household in a year, but in the last fiscal year only Rs 3.73 rupees was sanctioned and Rs 1.99 crores were utilised. This shows that people have no option but to migrate if this is the state of implementation of NREGS.
Story of Migration
The life of seasonal labourers is miserable in every respect. Most of the Orissa labourers are migrated to other Indian state like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujrat, Assam, UtterPradesh etc. usually from November to May to work in brick kiln. In regional language, the labourer is known as Dadana. Starting from the home to reach at the destination, in every step they struggle to survive. Due to suffocation, dehydration and sheer exhaustion in general compartment with overcrowded passengers, their train journey towards the destination place become more disgusting. When they get down at the in brick kiln, Tea Garden, Construction site, cotton mills etc, the owners showed them an open place to build their hovel. This is the duty of these labourers to build their hovels as early as possible else the life under the open sky may be extended to weeks. The owner provides the thatch or polythene for the roof and show them place where they get the materials (raw bricks and clay). As far as drinking water is concerned, the same water, which is used to prepare the clay, is used for every other purpose. These labourers are working in brick kilns with a rate of payment about Rs 80 for 1,000 bricks made. They work for 12 to 15 hours, sometimes 18 hours a day to get the wage (around Rs. 70 per day) more than the home state. The minimum wage for daily labour in Orissa is little more than Rs 50.
Additional to that amount, the owner pays the to and fro tickets from their house to kiln. The final settlement is made only when they are ready to leave that place. The final settlement means deduction of all the payment whether it may have taken for food or any other purpose.
The labourers actually put all their effort to repay the debt what he has borrowed from the sardar or Contractor of the labourers. But at the going-home time, the calculation shows a shortfall, which they must pay back in next season. Illness is a normal phenomenon and the expense is first borne by the owner. Very ill people are sent home. Sometimes return journey becomes the last journey for many labourers. They do bring back some money most of which goes treating illness, or just to eat.
Options for livelihood
Migration in Orissa occurs when workers do not get suitable options for livelihood in the home state. So there is some expectation of improvement in circumstances through migration. The improvement sought is not only for better opportunity or higher wages but also maximization of family employment or smoothing of income or consumption over the year.
Particularly in Orissa, labour migration occurs due to wage differences between the home and destination place. The major reason of migration spectrum, the workers could be locked into a debt-migration cycle, where earning from migration are used to repay debts incurred at home. The second reason is purely voluntary in nature because of their limited choices for subsistence. Moreover, absence of non-farm employment, and low agricultural production due to natural calamities has resulted in a growth of seasonal migration.
Failure of Government Projects
The Government of Orissa developed number of ways to reduce the poverty in the state but there is no single best way to approach this task. On agriculture, the most urgent requirements are road and irrigation. The implementation of the national Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, which is a centrally funded scheme designed to achieve connectivity. Rural connectivity needs to be improved. Orissa has about 40% villages, which have all weather connectivity as compared to 60% all weather connectivity at national level. All weather connectivity is required for rural roads to produce significant benefits for the farmers in terms of transport infrastructure. At the other side, nearly 60% of the cultivable land is rain fed and exposed to the vagaries of monsoons. Due to the absence of adequate irrigation facilities, agriculture is pathetically dependent upon the monsoons. As a result of the erratic behaviour of the monsoon, agricultural production fluctuates widely from year to year. If we improve our irrigation facility then the farmers will get over the year employment in their cultivation land. No need to migrate to other states. We can use our strength, our labour and our manpower on our soil to develop our Orissa.
The Food for Work Programmes (FFWP) was started in 2000 as part of the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) in Orissa. Later this programme was expanded to form a part of any wage employment scheme of the State Government. It was being implemented in the notified districts during periods of natural calamities, such as drought, flood or cyclone. This programme also helps for generation of wage employment for BPL and APL families. The wage is paid to the labourers in the form of foodgrain and partly in cash. Out of 30 districts, 28 districts of Orissa are covered under Food for Work Programme, but the state’s food for work programe is still badly timed, beginning only when work on the fields has started. For communities who have no concept of savings, this is useless. Work on government projects for few months is never enough for the farmers of Orissa. They want round the year employment. It is the responsibility of Orissa government to create different job sources for the jobless farmers who are migrated in the winter just like Siberian birds to Chilka Lake.
Despite tall claims of the State Government about its performance in the implementation of the National Rural employment Guarentee Scheme (NREGS), it has not been able to bring down the level of distressed migration.
Life of labourers is extremely grim, and they are forced to live on a shoestring budget, consuming substandard food to save up to enough money to return home with. Being largely illegal, labour migration remains an unaccounted activity. So it becomes next to impossible to ensure minimum wages or labour rights for a migrant. In case of accident, sickness or death of a migrant, there is virtually no way to ensure compensation.The farmers are struggling for maintaining their daily life, as there is no work for anybody in the state. Our political leaders thought of to make Orissa prosperous through mega projects sponsored by central government. But the labourers have benefited very little.