Bhubaneswar, Dec 30:
Expressing shock over the chopping of palms of two migrant labourers in Kalahandi district on December 15 this year, the Centre has informed the Odisha government that it would implement a special livelihood project started under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) to put an end to the horrendous social evil.
In a letter to chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday, Union Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh said the NRLM, to deal with the menace of banded labour on a war-footing in ten critically vulnerable districts across six states, including Odisha, today decided to join hands with NGOs to become an institutional partner of the ‘Bandhua (bondage in Hindi) Campaign, 1947’ to combat bonded labour.
Admitting that millions are still enslaved four decades after India enacted the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976, Ramesh said under the NRLM umbrella, the Rural Development ministry would begin pilot projects in 10 vulnerable districts to identify bonded labourers and take adequate measures to provide them alternative livelihood and ensure their proper rehabilitation.
The 10 vulnerable districts include Balangir and Nuapada of Odisha, he said.
The Union minister said the pilot projects would help identify and rehabilitate bonded labourers by their inclusion in self-help groups (SHGs) and their federations, provision of soft loans and vulnerability reduction funds and special projects for alternative livelihoods including skill development interventions.
“The Mission would appoint a state level point person to monitor and ensure that objectives and activities are executed in letter and spirit”, he said.
Stating that the Odisha government had announced compensation for the two victims, Ramesh said “Keeping politics aside, we must all acknowledge that Odisha is one of the worst-affected states on the issue of bonded labour”.
According to Sarada Mulaleedharan, chief operating officer (COO), NRLM, the State Rural Livelihood Missions (SRLMs) would be the leading partners, who would ensure their coordination with other stakeholder departments or agencies.
“The possibilities of mandating project implementing agencies to incorporate the labourers released from bondage as priority targets for livelihood projects are being explored”, she said, adding that the convergence with the intervention of the ministry of Labour for rehabilitation of bonded labourers is underway.
It may be mentioned that an NRLM coordinator accompanied by a Bandha volunteer, during their three-day visit to Nuapada and Balangir districts last week, had initiated discussions with various grassroots partners and released bonded labourers to throw up ideas for the project.
The ‘Bandhua 1947’ campaign talks about the sad reality that while India has been a free nation for over 66 years, there are still millions who are ‘bandhua’ (under bondage).