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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Over one lakh Odia workers migrated to other States in 2014

Over one lakh workers from the State have been sent through middlemen to work in other States in 2014, Odisha Legislative Assembly was informed here on Friday.
In response to a query of Congress legislator Naba Kishore Das, Labour and State Employees Insurance Corporation Minister Prafulla Mallick updated that as on March this year, 1,19,001 migrant workers were sent to other State through 3,044 labour agents under Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979.
Researchers, however, termed the figure as grossly under reported. They said over 3 lakh labourers including minor children from western Odisha districts had gone to work in brick kilns in States like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
“During past two years, 726 migrant workers were rescued from workplace outside the State. Under Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979, as many as 159 criminal cases were filed during past five years,” Mr. Mallick said.
The statistics presented in the Assembly points out highest 32,487 migrant workers from Bolangir had been engaged in other States by labour agents while 20,233 workers had gone from Khurda district.
The government information makes it clear that district administrations in western Odisha districts had no clue as to how many poverty stricken people migrated to other States in search of jobs. From last part of 2013 till March 2014, district police and labour department officials had tracked hundreds of migrant workers who were being sent to other States in Nuapada alone.
“We think more than 3 lakh workers from western Odisha districts migrate to other States, mostly through unregistered labour agents. These workers are forced to work in inhospitable condition and any form of protest by workers often leads to torture by employers,” said Umi Daniel, head of Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia.
Mr. Daniel said, “Odisha surely sends more than 20 lakh migrant workers every year. While a large number of workers from Ganjam migrate to States like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, destinations of workers from western Odisha are mostly brick kilns of southern States.”
He said the official figure on rescue of distressed workers also did not give a clear picture of hopeless situation the migrant workers were in. “Compared to 726 migrant workers claimed to be rescued by Odisha government, Tamil Nadu, erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka had officially released more than 1400 workers after identifying them as bonded labourers.”
State Labour Minister said government was taking steps to provide a toll free numbers to register grievances of migrant workers who work in distress condition.

The Hindu: June 14, 2014 00:00 IST | Updated: June 14, 2014 05:39 IST

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Elections, migrant workers and vote?

Umi Daniel

Another general election are on the corner and millions of poor people who have stepped out from their villages to far flung urban areas are busy working as migrant labourers. These migrant labourers ponder about their livelihood rather participating in the largest democratic right to vote. They are no doubt going to be excluded from their right to vote and have little say in the election. As per the informal estimate, the seasonal migrant in India are said to be around 100 million. It is irony that, while migration is a fundamental right of the citizen of India to move the length and breadth of India and choose their occupation, the issues of poor migrants and their participation in the democratic governance system is a grave concern. While, the postal ballot provision for the government employees, police personnel involved in election duty, armed forces guarding our borders and away from their villages are available, we are yet to evolve a system to facilitate a level playing ground for the migrant labourers to cast their valuable vote.

On a recent news paper report, the National Human Rights Commission of India has directed the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where large numbers of Odiya migrant labourers are engaged in brick making, to ensure that these people go back to their respective states to vote. A cursory observation of the out migration seasonal and semi-permanent migrant labour will be around 2 million. Majority of the migrant workers are based in Maharashtra and Gujarat followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and northern cities like Delhi and Punjab. It is pretty difficult to find out any government data about the migrant labour either at the source or destination mainly because of lack of any policy or system in place. In such case, it is a nightmare for the receiving states to identify, locate and repatriate the people back to their native place for voting. Many of the migrants come under the debt migrant system and being harbored illegally by the middleman. The debt migrant workers take an advance and move to the place of destination through the labour agent who makes it sure that the people complete their work as per the agreement. 

 In an informal working condition, hardly the people have a luxury of leaving the place of work for an election holiday which involves time, cost and uncertainty of the labourers coming back to work. The local political leaders are well aware about the issue and through the labour agent use all their influence to bring the people through investing huge sum of money. For political leaders, getting back migrants to vote is significant dividend and a win ability factor for the party and the leader to win. On the other hand, the middleman, labour contractors and the principle owner are also pin high hope on the leaders win to propel their illegal labour trafficking business and cooperate to bring the key migrant voters back to the villages. However, the principal owners have something different in his mind. In a debt migration situation where two or more family members work in a facility, the owner sends the male member to return home for voting while he retains other members of the family as collateral so that the work doesn’t suffer and the male members return is ensured.

In the past, in one of the high labour migration region of western Odisha, one of the aspirant for MLA been allegedly involved in the labour trade had won election through capitalising migrant labourers vote and money earned from the business. On the other hand, Ganjam district in Odisha which has a large migrant population working in Surat, many of the permanently settled Odia workers do possess  a voting right.  It is interesting that, during a general or Assembly election, political parties from Gujrat extend their campaign at the sources villages in Ganjam to woo the voters and their families. Despite having a strong vote bank in Surat with half a million strong Odia,  the migrant have a very little or no influence on the political parties to bring in welfare, entitlements and better services for the migratory populations.

During a recent public meeting in Odisha, the visiting Gujrat Chief Minister in his speech spoke eloquently about the desperation of youth from Odisha who are aspiring to migrate to Gujrat in search of livelihood. It is true that, Surat has been considered as one of the favorite destinations of the migrant from the coastal region of Odisha since last several decades. Most of the migrant in Surat are engaged in the textile and power-loom industries in Surat. However, the political leadership of both Odisha and Gujrat have forgotten the poor migrants who are hugely contributing to the economy of both the states. 

Last year, one of the very proactive Member of Parliament from Odisha has visited the brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh and held meeting with the officials of Govt of Andhra Pradesh and civil society to advocate for better living condition, wages and better treatment to the brick kiln migrant workers. The MP has also participated in a public meeting in Western Odisha and expressed his concerns the migrants who are being ill treated in Andhra Pradesh. While the effort of the MP is laudable, his innocence about understanding the intra-State Odia migrant’s issues and particularly poor migrant workers engaged in mining, brick kiln, construction industries, stone crusher equally needs the same attention, concern and response from his own government to bring in lasting impact to the lives of the unorganised migrant workers. 

Finally, during vote, political parties do try their best to garner support and make a strategic plan for a captive vote which is crucial for their win. With little investment, no one will mind to get the captive vote of migrant. It is the sheer negligence, lack of understanding and political will, the poor dalit, tribal and backward communities who are turning into migrant workers are being neglected. Few months before, the pathetic incidence involving two of the migrants workers whos hands were chopped off by the labour contractor in the district of Kalahandi in Odisha. It is time that the political leadership shouldn’t only use the migrants vote for during every election, but start thinking about alternatives, rights and dignity of the toiling mass. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

‘No correct info on labourers migrating for advance loan’

At a time when large scale ‘distress’ migration goes on under the nose of district administrations in poverty-stricken KBK districts, Odisha government has no idea how many people have migrated to other States for work in lieu of loan advances.

In the recently concluded winter session of the Odissa Assembly, Labour Minister Bijoyshree Routray said no correct information was available with labour department about labourers who take loan before migrating for work.

However, the State government had granted licence to 3,046 contractors to take out 1,18,451 labourers to other States. As many as 242 complaints were received from labourers who were to subjected torture at workplace.

Mr. Routray informed that 538 labourers were rescued from other States and brought back to Odisha. As many as 57 criminal cases had been filed in different courts.

However, activists term the figure underestimated as actual population that migrated from States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat was far bigger. And the recent chopping off of palms of labourers by labour contractors in Nuapada district indicates that the crisis of distress migration was much deeper.

According to a study conducted way back in 2001, 1.44 lakh people from KBK districts migrate every year. “But our estimate shows, more than 50,000 families (around 2.5 lakh population) migrate from districts like Bolangir, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bargarh, Sonepur and Sambalpur every year. These workers are treated like animals in workplace as they do not have access to shelter, health and education for children,” said Umi Daniel, head of Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia here on Wednesday.

Similarly, Sudarshan Chhotray, an activist who studies migration patterns, says the State government was not at all serious about safety of lakhs of hapless workers who migrate to other States. “Administration has not done any proper survey on migrating workers in KBK districts. In fact, the labour department hardly makes effort to keep track of labourers migrating under dubious circumstances,” Mr. Chhotray said. A regular survey would have enabled the government to plan immediate intervention.

Mr. Daniel said the much hyped Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act had failed to prevent the migration as the scheme does not generate employment for labourers when they need it the most – during monsoon. Besides, the scheme had failed to generate 100 days of employment in backward districts.

THE HINDU | December 19, 2013 00:00 IST | Updated: December 20, 2013 05:50 IST