Reported by Santanu Barad
Berhampur, Apr 2:
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik did not take very kindly to Narendra Modi’s taunt about large scale migration of Odia people, particularly from his own district, to Surat in Gujarat. But the bitter truth is: nearly 10 lakh people from south Odisha is general and Ganjam in particular will not be able to cast their vote in this election because of seasonal migration.
Incredibly, the state government does not have exact data regarding the number of migrant labourers from Odisha working in Surat. Labour department officials seek to explain away the lapse saying a majority of labourers migrate on their own through local agents and workers already employed in Surat.
But informal estimates puts the total number of migrant workers in Surat from Odisha at around 10 lakh of which more than 6 lakh are from Ganjam alone. About 30 per cent of these people are seasonal migrants. More than two lakhs have settled permanently in Surat and have become a big factor in local elections there.
Besides Surat, three to four lakh labourers from Odisha also work as construction labourers in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and in metros.
Civil society groups working in the field of migrant labour put the number of seasonal migrants at 10 lakh. Nearly all of them will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their franchise in this election since these poor people cannot afford to return to their native places just to vote and the state government has no plans of getting them here for the election.
“It is really unfortunate that the state is ignoring the rights of migrant labourers, the lifeline of rural Ganjam, who remit around Rs 3000 crore to the state,” said social activist Bhalachandra Sadangi. “The state government is neither taking steps to stop the migration nor doing anything to bring the migrants back home during the elections,” he rued.
Migration of workers has gone up manifold with the growth of the textile industry in Surat where there are around 30,000 power looms and more than 6,000 dyeing units now. The vast majority of people who migrate to Surat hail from the interior pockets of Ganjam district: from blocks like Beguniapada, Polasara, Hinjili, Shergarh, Belaguntha, Kabisuryanagar, Purushottampur, Digapahandi, Khallikote and Buguda.
No wonder the fate of these lakhs of migrant labourers is a big issue in these parts in the election this time.
Harihar Sahu, the former MLA from Hinjili who vacated his seat for Naveen in 2000 and is now contesting the election against him, minces no words as he says; “Naveen had no answer when Modi asked why the Chief Minister had failed to stop migration of the people of his own district to Gujarat. Instead of being ashamed, he actually gloated over it dubbing it a case of ‘upward mobility.” “He (Naveen) failed to address despite repeated requests,” he adds.
Sahu pegs the number of people from the state migrating to Gujarat at 12 lakh with nearly two lakh accounted for by people from Hinjli, his home turf.
Prabhat Kumar Mohanty, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s candidate from Aska Parliamentary Constituency, is more vocal in holding Naveen responsible for this sorry state of affairs. “Thousands of farmers from Ganjam district are migrating as they find only three months of work in agriculture. Second crop is not possible due to lack of irrigation facilities. Naveen holds the Water Resources portfolio, but has failed to do anything about it,” he says. “It is unfortunate that looms are defunct in Ganjam district and lakhs of people working in Surat and other places are unable to participate in the democratic process,” he adds.