Reported by Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar, Dec 20:
The rescue of as many as 933 migrant workers, including 172 children, after the barbaric chopping off of the palms of two labourers in the state three days ago has punctured the tall claims of the Odisha government that rapid industrialization on the one hand and successful implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) on the other had generated plenty of employment for the state’s working population.
According to Labour and ESI department sources, about 3046 labour contractors have received licenses to engage 1.18 lakh labourers from Odisha in 2013. They said 20,263 migrant labourers were engaged in 2012 in different parts of country including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Besides, 130 people from Odisha were engaged in Angola, an African state in 2012.
But knowledgeable circles maintain that the figure of migrant labourers could be 10 times more as many of the labour contractors are not registered with the Labour department and it has become a flourishing inter-state labour trade worth Rs 70-80 crore annually.
“While the state government does not have the actual figure of migrant labourers, it has become a trade worth Rs 70 to 80 crore in western Odisha. The trade flourishes right under the nose of the administration as government officials who are supposed to stop distress migration, are bribed at different stages,” said Umi Daniel, head of Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide de Action, South Asia and a researcher on migration.
Castigating the government for its failure to implement the Inter-state Migrant Workmen Act, Daniel said that migration from western Odisha had turned into a ‘neo-bondage’ system, wherein labour contractors dispatch thousands of labourers by luring them into a debt trap.
However, the thick-skinned government claimed that they were taking every action to rescue the migrant labourers. “Whenever it comes to our notice, we take action and rescue them,” said Prasant Baliarsingh, assistant labour commissioner.
The Naveen Patnaik government has never tired of claiming credit for its populist schemes like free umbrellas to Rs one a kg rice. But it has never bothered to explain why people continue to migrate in such large numbers when everything in the state is so honky dory.
On its part, the central government also has a host of welfare programmes like the Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF), Rastriya Krushi Vikash Yojana (RKVY), Swarnajayanti Gramya Swarojagar Yojana (SGSY), Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) and more importantly KBK Development plan and MGNREGA. But if inter-state migration of labour continues, the only explanation can be these schemes are simply not working on the ground.
Attracting big industries has also failed to generate employment for the local people due to the reluctance of the companies to engage them, even though the state government has made it compulsory for them to engage local people in 90%of jobs in the unskilled category and 60% in the skilled category.
While Odisha’s western districts, including Nuapada, Kalahandi, Koraput, Rayagada and Bolangir, are considered some of the most economically backward areas in the country, the government has failed to provide employment to them.
NREGA, 2005 is a path breaking legislation that entitles guaranteed employment of 100 days to rural poor households as a means of sustenance. Since inception, till the end of March, 2012, 61.61 lakh households have been registered and 61.37 lakh households, including 11.73 lakh SC and 17.32 lakh ST households, have been issued job cards, said the Economic Survey report of 2012-13.
During 2011-12, about 13.91 lakh households demanded wage employment and 13.79 lakh households were provided employment worth 453.74 lakh person days. The share of SC and ST labourers was 79.42 lakhs and 173.17 lakh person days respectively. However, one hundred days of employment was provided to only 0.48 lakh households.
The report said that out of 227,600 employment generating projects taken up, 68,455 projects have been completed by the end of 2011-12. In the process, funds to the extent of Rs.1032.56 crores have been utilised out of the total available funds amounting to Rs.1371.14 crores, showing the percentage of expenditure at 75 percent.
However, a report of Union Ministry of Rural Development said that there is poor implementation in many places. Average wages paid are lower than the minimum wages; there is a distressing delay in the payment of wages; demand is not properly captured (an NSSO survey found 19 per cent of people who wanted work did not get it); dated receipts for work applications are not properly given; and the payment of unemployment allowance is a rarity.
This being the state of affairs, the poor have very little choice but to migrate outside the state in search of work. May be the state government has never really tried to stop such distress migration because it has several lakh people less to worry about when it comes to providing employment!