Friday, April 22, 2016

Drought, destitution and distress migration

Umi Daniel

Half of the 688 districts in India today are reeling under the extreme situation of drought. Some of the regions, particularly the western part of India has been consecutively experiencing drought but during 2016 the intensity of drought has become more severe and widespread. Odisha has a long history of drought and this year too it is under the firing line of the nature and facing drought with varied degree of impact and intensity. According to the government of Odisha, out of the 30 districts in Odisha, 28 districts have been affected by drought. Of late, the Government of India has released Rs. 276.54 crores as drought assistance. It is alleged that, the Govt. of India’s release of drought assistance is much less against its commitment of Rs. 815 crores.

All including the IMD predicted a deficient and low rainfall during 2015. The farmers and the people on the ground were all aware about the situations and started their own contingency plans to face yet another drought. Nonetheless, in India the administrative ritual is quite cumbersome and hasn’t transformed since the days of British Raj on drought management. The colonial process of the district collectors’ crop cutting report is considered as significant administrative paraphernalia to announce drought or deny drought in a particular geographical area. Once the ground assessment is done, another high level bureaucratic exercise is conducted by the central government and based on their field report the drought assistance is determined. The sequence of events for declaring drought and initiating relief work hang back hugely and fail to address the immediate and most vital human sufferings and effects like distress and mass migration. This is because, in the absence of timely administrative action to generate rural employment and contingency plan on provision for agriculture, irrigation and drinking water force the vulnerable and poor people to move to urban areas for employment and survival. And thus, along with landless agriculture workers, due to crop failure, the debt ridden farmers also join the bandwagon of wage seeker migrants. While drought is bane for poor people, it is boon time for labour traffickers and middleman who earns good dividends due to sudden spurt in men, women and children predisposed to work as migrant labourers.

India has got a long history of implementation of drought relief programmes and particularly wage employment schemes during drought. The Maharashtra state employment guarantee programme of 70’s was one of the successful drought relief mass employment generation programme ever implemented in India. India had in the past formulated string of rural employment generation programmes, however the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2005 (MGNREGA) was considered as a historic and ambitious rural employment generation programme to combat rural unemployment, distress, rejuvenate natural resources and create permanent and productive assets for poverty alleviation.

In view of the drought situation, the Central government has increased the number of days under MGNREGA from 100 to 150 in all the drought prone regions. The Government of Odisha has added another 50 days and made it 200 days employment for all the drought prone districts. However, the enhanced employment days under MGNREGA so far has failed to deliver on the ground. In a calamity situation, people will not wait for all the trumpet beat and declaration of additional days of employment under MGNREGA. It is quite visible that, the people on the ground are slowly losing faith on MGNREGA due its poor deliverables. After half a decade of its formulation and implementation, MGNREGA is today marred with lot of structural problems, failed and unsuccessful experiments, corruption and is struggling to reach out to at least 25% of its registered job seekers with 100 full days of employment. In Odisha a massive 66 lakhs people have registered for employment under the MGNREGA, unfortunately it could only provide 100 days of employment to less than 1 lakh people.

In India, the days of food for work, calamity relief work, fodder schemes and emergency feeding programmes are more or less being phased out or are in transition. Despite having loopholes in these emergency programmes, some programmes such as food for work, emergency water supply, adaptable agriculture, fodder for the cattle and emergency feeding for the destitute in the past have greatly benefited the people to reduce vulnerability and confronting the affects of natural calamities.

In 2009, India launched its National Policy on Disaster Management with a vision to build a safe and disaster resilient India. The policy aims to develop a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster oriented and technology driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response. However, the capacity, knowledge, skills and infusing timely and appropriate budget for both short term and long term planning is lacking. The National Climate Change Action plan and the state plan of action on climate change needs to be implemented on a priority basis to create a resilience community to combat drought and vulnerability. There should be a paradigm shift in managing drought in India. The flagship MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act (NFSA) has got much needed ingredient to provide relief as well as long term solutions on drought Mitigation. While the Food Security Act will prevent hunger and destitution, MGNREGA need to be made more receptive and accountable to create durable assets for agriculture, land & water conservation, forestry and should be proactive in providing employment and timely wages to check distress migration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Govt of India considering a law for granting voting rights to internal migrant workers

Umi Daniel

In the month of July 2015, Hearing a petition to provide voting rights to Non Resident Indian which the Government of India has already agreed to bring out legislation for granting the voting rights of NRIs. Further, the Central Government in its reply also has informed the Apex Court for drafting a law to make provision for postal ballots for internal migrant’s workers in India.

A bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra and Amitave Roy was hearing a petition for extending the postal voting rights to NRI being filed by one Mr. Nagender Chindam  and Mr. Samsheer VP both are NRIs.

The Election Commision, earlier did not favour extending the same benefit to migrants in the country. " Scheme of the Representation of Peoples Act is that a person can be enrolled only at the place where he is ordinarily resident, the question of any person migrating to a different place from his native place, enrolling himself in the electoral roll of his native place does not arise, the poll panel had said in an affidavit. 

However, during the July 2015 hearing, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) PL Narasimha, who was representing the central government, told the court that a committee to consider such a law has already been set up and is expected to submit a report by September 15 after advocate Prashant Bhushan suggested that the government should consider extending the facility to the country’s migrant population. The bench added that the Election Commission was considering such a law.

Voting rights for the migrants was voiced in this blogspot earlier and it is a welcome step that millions of migrant workers in India who are being excluded from exercising their democratic rights to vote will now be considered to cast their right to vote even if they are away from their native constituency. It is also hearting to know that the petition which was argued to provide voting rights for the overseas NRIs is also being extended to give the same privilege and rights to the internal migrants.

It will be a historic day when the law will allow the poor, disadvantage unorganized migrant workers will equally participate in the democratic governance of the country.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Government of India set up task force to study migration

Umi Daniel

The recent National Sample survey data in India shows that one in three households in urban area are migrant households. Most of the migrants move across within the state boundaries and the single most reason of migration is employment. It is estimated that by 2030, close to 50% of the population of India will be living in urban area.

Realizing the challenges of urban governance, infrastructure, livelihood, housing, access to basic services and creating inclusive policies for migrants, the government of India has set recently up an inter-ministerial task force to study the impact of migration on housing, infrastructure and livelihoods. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation ( HUPA) has issued orders to set up a panel with members from ministries of Rural Development, Labour and Employment, Statistics and Programme implementation, Home Affaris and HUPA. The panel is headed by Dr. Pattho Mukhopadhayay from the Centre for Policy Research will also include a representative from the NITI Aayog in addition to housing and migration experts. The panel will study causes, forms and patterns of external and internal migration, its fallout across various economic groups and impact of remittances on receiving and remitting regions. It will also examine the effectiveness of existing legislation such as Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act of 1979.

The panel is expected to submit its report by the end of the year

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

State Action Plan to address migrant workers issues and concerns in Odisha

Umi Daniel 

Perturbed by perennial cases of exploitation & violation of rights of inter-state migrant workers in Odisha, the government of Odisha, Department of Panchayat Raj has came out with a comprehensive state action plan for ensuring enforcement, welfare, entitlements and protection of rights of inter-state migrant workers moving within and to various states as seasonal workers.  A detailed advisory and action plan was issued by Dept of Panchayat Raj on December 17th 2014.

The proposed action plan is said to be implemented in 11 districts of Odisha which is considered as key migration prone district of Odisha. The targeted district includes, Bolangir, Bargarh, Subranapur, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Koraput, Nabarangpur, Rayagada and Khorda. The department of Panchayat Raj has also allocated a budget of Rs.7,49,60,750 to carry out wide range of initiatives both at the district and state level. Some of the key departments which are going to play pivotal role in implementation and coordination of various activities are, Labour and ESI department, Panchayat Raj dept, Home department, School and Mass education department, Food supplies and consumer welfare dept, Revenue and D.M department and the Micro, Small Medium Enterprises Department. Following are some of the key initiative being extracted from the action plan.

The labour and ESI department, Government of Odisha has been assigned the responsibilities to conduct periodic survey of migrant people in this district to understand various aspects and trend of migration. Voluntary registrations of migrants are proposed to carry out at the panchayat level by PEO, EO, GRS. Details about migrants and their enrollment under the MGNREGA and special migrant identify cards were also being suggested. Further, registration of constrction workers under OBOCWB ( Odisha Building & Other Construction Workers Welfare Board), job card under MGNREGA, Registration under RSBY and Biju Krushak Yojona has been resolved. The government also recommended computerizing the migrant’s data and a develop a separate software for the purpose of tracking.

In regards to unscrupulous agents and labour contractors who illegally recruit, harbor and dispatch migrant labourers without proper legal registration under the ISMW( RE&CS) Act 1979 are subjected to strict surveillance and watch by the local police. The action plan has made strong recommendation for identification, arrest and punishment of the contractors who violet the Act.

The SAP also emphasize on implementation of all the labour laws pertaining to Payment of Minimum Wage, Contract Labour Act, Employees Compensaton Act, Child labour Act  and Inter State Migrant Workers( Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act of 1979 and to take action on the Bonded Labour ( Abolition) Act, 1976.

Shramik (Labour) Help line telephone no 155368 has been set up to provide support for rescue and repatriation of migrant labourers in crisis from other states. The ESI Department has also determined to provide financial resources for sending of rescue team to rescue of migrant labourers living in crisis in other states.

The Action plan emphasis to singing of MOU with destination States to protect the migrants workers rights, welfare and social security and establish contacts with various welfare organization at the destination states to create contact points to reach out to migrant labourers.

Strengthening seasonal hostels for children of migrant workers has been in function in Odisha by School and Mass Education department and more such facilities in migration prone regions has been proposed. The dept of labour & ESI, Govt of Odisha is willing to provide financial support for running of such seasonal hostels.

The action plan also goes-on to suggest a range of initiative for the intra-district migrant workers access to basic services, entitlements and running of crèche at the work-site to be aided by the Odisha Labour Welfare Board.

Awareness creation and educating migrant workers about their rights and entitlement has been prioritized in the action plan. Partnership and collaboration with SHG,  PRI institution trade unions, NGOs to spread the awareness and labour education has been strongly recommended.

All the 11 targeted districts are also mandated to create a district level monitoring committee under the chairmanship of District Collector has been planned. Other members of the committee includes, Superitended of Police, PD, DRDA, CMO, DSWO, DEO, members from CWC, DLO ( convenor) and members from NGOs, trade union. The term of the committee has been stated as two years.
At the state level, a State Level Migration Cell has been planned to be set up with basic minimum infrastructure and financial allocation. 

Enactment of the State Action Plan on addressing the concerns and issues of intra and interstate migrant labourers in Odisha is a welcome step. The Government of Odisha has been  under tremendous pressure from rights and legal bodies like NHRC and the Apex Court after number of cases of labour exploitation and the latest being chopping of palms of migrants being reported in Odisha to act firmly towards reducing distress and protection of rights of inter-state migrant workers in Odisha. 

The success of implementation of the SAP depends much on the convergence and collaboration of various wings of the government towards effective enforcement and welfare programme for the labourers. It is also crucial to create a larger platform for participation of the migrant labourers, create interstate linkages, PRI and NGOs to make the programme successful.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Beneficiary identification for NFSA in Odisha may exclude poor migrants

Umi Daniel

The Government of Odisha, department of Civil Supplies has launched state wide first phase identification of beneficiary to be included to access subsidies food grain under National Food Security Act. The Act was passed by the government of India and Odisha is now going to roll out the process to include vulnerable, destitute and poor household under the programme.

The Govt of Odisha has launched a massive drive in all the 30 district to identify the poor under the Act. The government has also notified both exclusion and atomatic inclusion criteria for the enumeration. While, income tax payers, people having four wheeler s, having government or public sector jobs,  like eight criteria to be excluded from enrolling under the programme. However, the inclusion criteria has also been chalked out to include, primitive tribal group, physically challenged and destitute, construction workers in the Act in both urban and rural Odisha.

The BPL (Below Poverty Line) survey was last conducted in 1997 and close to 48.58 lakh families in Odisha was being enumerated as poor household to access subsidized rice. However, the latest Planning Commission report underestimates the poverty headcount of Government of Odisha and puts it as 32.98 lakh. The BPL controversy will now be resolved once the final survey is done in Odisha to have an actual data on the BPL households.

On the other hand, I have been advocating in this blog as how the important surveys, enumeration or participation in the elections, if not planned properly will bypass the poor migrant workers.  The current enumeration for identification of beneficiary for NFSA has began in February and the last phase will be conducted in August 2017. The high migration region of Odisha where seasonal migration began in October & December and the people only to come during July and August are going to be excluded from the beneficiary selection process and will be eliminated from accessing subsidies rice under the National Food Security Act. The one size fits all surveys and enumeration should take note  about the seasonality of peoples important event, mobility and engagements so that the poor and disadvantage and eligible household are not excluded from the process. 

The government should provide a window of opportunity for these people to apply for inclusion into the beneficiary identification process at the later date. The Panchayats should identify such families and resolve in the Grama Sabha during February to include the names of migrant households who will later be included into the final list. 

Moreover, proper and adequate advertisement of such enrollment drive is must so that, some migrant may come back to their home for enrolling themselves into the NFSA survey. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Voting rights for internal migrants in India?

Umi Daniel

On 13th of January, 2014 The Supreme Court of India has granted voting rights to the NRI (Non Resident Indians) living in other countries through internet. The Union government was also agreed to the Election Commission of India’s recommendation to allow the NRI to vote through e-ballot system.

In similar fashion, the voting rights for millions of internal migrants, particularly the inter and interstate seasonal or circular disadvantage migrant workers and their families yet to get similar privilege to cast their valuable votes. The estimated number of the seasonal migrants workers are anywhere between 80-100 million and the Indian Census 2001 records the total migrant in India as 310 million. Going by the number, it is a irony that, large number of its citizen who migrate for survival or better livelihood are excluded from exercising their citizenship right to vote while living away from their villages. 

Nevertheless, in India we have the provision for postal ballot system which largely being benefited by the employees engaged in election or serving in police and armed forces.

The NRIs living in other countries are now going to be included in the democratic process is is a welcome move. However large number of internal migrants who have been  excluded from accessing the opportunity is quite unfortunate.  It is high time that the Government of India should also pave the way for making voting accessible to migrant from all internal locations in India. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From Bondage to Disability, Nightmare Still Not Over for This 13­Year­Old

For 13-year-old Sushant Kumbhar, a former bonded labourer from Odisha's Bolangir district, even the basic joys of childhood, like playing with other children, is denied. His hand is full of pus and he is in extreme pain. In January, his left hand had been crushed by the owner of the brick kiln in Karnataka where the family had been forced to work.

They were finally rescued by a non-profit and the case received a lot of media attention. The Odisha government initially paid for Sushant's medical treatment. But as the spotlight faded, so did the government's will to help.

More medical intervention is required, but his parents cannot afford it.

Santosh Kumbhar, Sushant's father, said, "My son has become disabled. I sincerely appeal to the state government to give proper medical attention to this boy and provide him with a job."

In August, the Odisha Human Rights Commission directed the state government to pay a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to Sushant. A cheque was handed over, but the family said they could not encash it due to problems at their bank.

The family is also entitled to Rs. 20,000 per head as compensation and preference in government schemes under the Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Act. But though the necessary certificates were issued, neither Karnataka, nor the Odisha government gave them any money.

Sources in the district administration said they were doing their best to help the boy.

Umi Daniel, Regional Head of the NGO Aide et Action, said, "People like Sushant need rehabilitation and the kind of support children need. They need basic relief and then they should be mainstreamed into education and other programmes."

Over the last three years, more than 1,100 migrant labourers have been released from brick kilns of various states, mostly through the initiative of the civil society. But most suffer a fate similar to Sushant's.

For now, the only silver lining is Sushant hasn't lost hope. "I go to school, but sometimes I'm forced to come home because of the pain. It doesn't matter that my hand is broken. I will study hard and get a job," he said.

NDTV Story First Published: November 13, 2014 23:13 IST